World News

U.S. strikes kill 15 militants in Pakistan northwest

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - Missiles fired by suspected U.S. drones killed at least 15 militants in two strikes in Pakistan’s northwest region on Wednesday, security officials said, part of a surge in such attacks near the Afghan border.

The strikes targeted militants in North Waziristan, a major sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban on the Afghan border.

In a pre-dawn attack, pilotless drone aircraft fired eight missiles targeting a militant compound on the outskirts of region’s main town of Miranshah, killing 12 militants.

Hours later, drones fired two missiles into another compound in Datta Khel area, about 40 km (25 miles) west of Miranshah, killing at least three militants.

Security officials said those killed in the first strike were Pakistani militants affiliated with the Haqqani network, one of the brutal Afghan militant factions fighting U.S.-led foreign forces across the border.

Named after veteran mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group is now led by his son Siraj and is closely linked to al Qaeda.

The identity of the militants killed in the second strike, the 13th such attack this month, could not be immediately ascertained.

An intelligence official in North Waziristan said a cousin of Siraj was killed and several of his relatives wounded in a missile strike on Tuesday in the region.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualties and militant groups often dispute government accounts.

Security analysts say the intensification in missile strikes, particularly in North Waziristan, could be linked to the delay by Pakistan in launching new anti-Taliban offensives as it struggles to cope with August’s devastating floods.

The United States has branded Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt as the global hub of militants. Washington and the Afghan government in Kabul have long been demanding that Pakistan act against Afghan Taliban factions fighting across the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is currently on a visit to Pakistan, said both countries were suffering at the hands of militants and they should find ways to tackle them effectively.

“Those who are attacking us in Afghanistan or those who are attacking you in Pakistan, they don’t come from, say, Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso or Brazil or any other place,” he told a news conference with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

“They must be originating from within our soils. The argument here is ... how to find ways of tackling the sanctuaries, the training ground, the ideological motivation, the financial resources to them whether they occur in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan, a crucial U.S. ally for its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, has launched major offensives against homegrown militants who have unleashed a campaign of suicide and bomb attacks across the country but has been reluctant to extend its crackdown on Afghan militants, saying it needed to consolidate its gains before launching new operations.

Many analysts believe Pakistan may be planning to use Afghan groups such as the Haqqani network as leverage to check the growing influence of its arch-rival India in Afghanistan after the planned American withdrawal from there.

Pakistan’s army has come under a major strain after it diverted more than 60,000 of its men for rescue and relief efforts after devastating floods hit the country over a month ago.

However, army officials say they have not redeployed any of about 140,000 soldiers fighting militants near the Afghan border. Pakistan has an estimated force of about 550,000 soldiers.

“We can’t afford to lower our guard. How can it be done when they are still attacking and exploding bombs?” a senior security official said.

Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Augustine Anthony; editing by Philippa Fletcher