Suspected U.S. strike kills 15 in Pakistan
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suspected CIA drone strike targeted a militant stronghold area in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan's borderlands Friday, killing 15 people, according to news reports.
A series of missiles pounded the town of Datta Khel, near what U.S. officials believe is the headquarters of the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent force that has staged deadly bombings in Afghan cities and regularly attacks NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan.
The Associated Press, quoting Pakistani intelligence officials, said the strike targeted a vehicle suspected of carrying foreign militants, and damaged a nearby restaurant and home. Officials reported that at least one of the dead was a civilian.
Friday's strikes -- the first since the U.S. helicopter raid Monday on the compound of Osama bin Laden in northwest Pakistan -- are likely to further stoke tensions between the two allies. CIA drone strikes in the past year frequently have struck North Waziristan, a stewpot of Islamist militant groups that the United States has long pressured Pakistan's army to cleanse. Pakistan calls the strikes violations of its sovereignty, though the nation tacitly allows them.
As relations with the United States soured this year, Pakistani military officials have demanded a decrease in the strikes, depicting them as a "unilateral" tactic that no longer depends on shared intelligence.
On Thursday, Pakistan's military also criticized the bin Laden raid as a violation of the nation's sovereignty, warning that future such operations would prompt Pakistan to reconsider its alliance with the United States.
"There was no need for a shortcut or to bypass Pakistan," said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, speaking to reporters aboard his official plane as he returned Friday from Paris, according to a Pakistani news service.
Also Friday, religious parties held gatherings in various cities to protest bin Laden's killing and to call upon the government to cut ties with the United States. But by midday, the rallies had attracted few people. Though Pakistan is the hub of many Islamist extremist groups, including al-Qaida and the Taliban, bin Laden's death has spurred little public reaction.
In Lahore and Abbottabad, the garrison city where bin Laden hid out in a fortified compound, a few hundred protesters shouted anti-American slogans and urged the Pakistani government to cut the nations' ties. In Rawalpindi, organizers said they would cut short the sparsely attended rally because of rain.
"The military and political leadership is without integrity. These generals have just laid down in front of America," Zikrullah Mujahid, a leader with the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, said in Lahore. "American terrorists did what they wanted."
In Washington, Obama administration officials said Thursday that they were uncertain whether the military's combative statement -- which also acknowledged "shortcomings" in Pakistani intelligence on bin Laden -- reflected Pakistan's actual stance or whether it amounted to posturing for a domestic audience. In conversations with U.S. officials, one administration official said, Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, had been "much more nuanced. ... We didn't hear this bellicosity."
In a speech at the Aspen Institute, a senior U.S. defense official said Pakistan would have to take "very concrete and visible steps" to persuade Congress to continue providing $3 billion in annual military and economic assistance. "We are still talking with the Pakistanis and trying to understand what they did know, what they didn't know" about bin Laden's apparently years-long residence in a garrison city north of the Pakistani capital, Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy said.
First Published May 7, 2011 12:00 am