U.S. Airstrike Kills 20 People in Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An American drone aircraft hit a militant compound in South Waziristan on Sunday night, killing 20 people, including two important local Taliban commanders known for their attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, a senior government official and a local resident said Monday.
One of the dead commanders, Eida Khan, was wanted by the Americans for his cross-border attacks from bases in Waziristan, the government official said. The other commander, Wahweed Ullah, worked with Arabs who were part of Al Qaeda, the
Mr. Ullah, in his late 20s, was known as an ideologically committed fighter who specialized in attacks against Americans in Afghanistan, the resident said.
The drone launched a missile attack on a compound in the village of Manduta, close to Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, about 20 miles from the border with Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan and Mr. Ullah, as well as two brothers of Mr. Khan, were affiliated with the militant network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure with close connections to Al Qaeda, said the official and the local resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The strike was part of an escalating campaign by the Bush administration to hit the Taliban and their Qaeda backers at their bases in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The attack appears to have been the 19th by a remotely piloted Predator aircraft in the tribal areas since the beginning of August. In the first seven months of 2008, there were five such strikes.
The Bush administration has intensified the drone attacks after backing away from using American commandos for ground raids into the tribal belt. A ground assault on Sept. 3 produced an angry public riposte from the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who said he would defend Pakistan’s borders “at all costs” against such intrusions, an unusually strong statement from one ally to another.
Mr. Ullah, who was usually in North Waziristan, was believed to have been visiting the compound in Manduta to pay his respects to the families of those killed in an American drone strike on Friday on a madrasa in North Waziristan run by Mr. Haqqani.
The people killed in the North Waziristan strike came from the area around Manduta, in South Waziristan, the government official and the local resident said.
Mr. Khan was well known to the Pakistani authorities. He was arrested in 2004 and jailed until last year, when he was released during an exchange of prisoners, the government official said.
While the drone attacks appear to be more acceptable to the Pakistani authorities than ground incursions, government officials have complained about the intensity of the strikes and the Americans’ choice of targets.
The Americans were concentrating on Taliban and Qaeda forces that attack American and coalition troops in Afghanistan but were ignoring militants operating in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official in the administration that oversees the tribal region said Monday.
“The Americans are not interested in our bad guys,” the official said. He was referring in particular to Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader, who Pakistani authorities say is responsible for planning many of the suicide bombings in the country in the last 18 months.
The Pakistani Army is fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur, another part of the tribal region to the east of Waziristan, and that conflict appeared to be on the verge of spreading Monday after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a checkpoint operated by paramilitary forces in the Mohmand region.
The attack was the first in Mohmand, an area adjacent to Bajaur. It killed nine guards at the checkpoint, the government said.
The Pakistani Army has said it plans to launch a campaign against the Taliban in Mohmand once it has completed its mission in Bajaur.
The conflict in the tribal region was discussed at a government-sponsored gathering of tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan in Islamabad on Monday. The meeting is part of a dialogue initiated last year by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The emphasis at the meeting was on talks between those Taliban willing to renounce violence and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That the gathering took place was seen as a sign that the new Pakistani government was willing to participate in a process that had been largely ignored by the former president, Pervez Musharraf.
The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, echoing a parliamentary resolution last week that encouraged dialogue with willing militants, said, “There is an increasing realization that the use of force alone cannot yield the desired results.”