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Suspected U.S. strike kills 5 militants in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan |
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing five suspected militants, possibly including an Arab al Qaeda operative, intelligence officials said.
The al Qaeda fighter was identified as Abdullah Azam al-Saudi by an intelligence official based in Dera Ismail Khan, hours after the missile attack in Janikhel tribal area of neighboring Bannu district in North West Frontier Province.
"He used to coordinate between al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan, and had also been responsible for recruiting people," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
There was no other corroboration that the Arab al Qaeda fighter had been killed.
Janikhel is not part of one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, but borders Waziristan -- a militant hotbed where suspected U.S. drone aircraft have launched a series of missile strikes in recent months.
A senior government official, Abdul Hameed, said Wednesday's pre-dawn missile attack was also launched by a drone aircraft.
Missile-armed drones are primarily used by U.S. forces in the region, though the United States seldom confirms drone attacks. Pakistan does not have any drones.
Intelligence officials had said earlier four fighters, believed to be Turkmen, were killed in the attack. A resident said Taliban fighters cordoned off the area after the missile attack.
Many Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, including Arabs, Chechens, Turkmen, Uzbeks and other Central Asians, fled to Pakistan's tribal lands after a U.S.-led military invasion toppled Afghanistan's Taliban government in late 2001.
Frustrated by fighters from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fearful of al Qaeda regrouping, U.S. forces have intensified missile attacks by pilotless drones, security sources said.
U.S. strikes have focused on North and South Waziristan where at least 20 missile attacks and a cross-border commando raid have killed scores of people since September.
Pakistan objects to the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty and argues that the strikes undermine its efforts to persuade people to support campaigns against the militants, and heightens already rampant anti-American sentiment.
Despite Pakistani anger, NATO's spokesman in Kabul, Brigadier General Richard Blanchette, said coordination with Pakistan had been improving and NATO forces had routinely retaliated when fired at by insurgents in Pakistan.
In the latest such incident, NATO said it fired 20 artillery rounds in coordination with the Pakistani military at insurgents on the Pakistani side who attacked a base in Paktika province on Sunday.
Pakistan hopes the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Barack Obama will be more sensitive to Pakistan's situation and take a less unilateral approach, though Obama's election campaign comments hardly encouraged those hopes.
The United States has refrained from using ground troops in cross-border incursions since a diplomatic storm blew up over the commando raid into South Waziristan on September 3.
Pakistani security forces are battling militants in several parts of the northwest including the Bajaur region at the northeastern end of the tribal belt, and in Swat valley, while there are expectations that the next offensive will be launched in the neighboring Mohmand tribal area.
(Additional reporting by Haji Mujtaba, David Morgan in Washington, Robert Birsel in Kabul; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Sanjeev Miglani)
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