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Civilians 'among 35 dead' in US strike in Pakistan

Pakistan demands US apology for drone strike
Islamabad (AFP) March 18, 2011 - Pakistan on Friday demanded an apology and explanation from the United States over a drone strike in a tribal region, which officials said killed 35 people, the foreign ministry said. "The government of Pakistan strongly condemns the drone strike which has resulted in a large number of casualties," foreign ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said in a statement. "Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir conveyed this strong condemnation to US ambassador Cameron Munter and has demanded an apology and explanation," she added.

"This is not only unacceptable but also a flagrant violation of all humanitarian rules and norms," Janjua said. She added Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani had also been asked to make a similar strong protest to the State Department. Thursday's attack was the most lethal drone strike to hit the lawless region of North Waziristan since August 2008 when the covert campaign escalated in the areas bordering Afghanistan, and the seventh such attack in nine days.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also strongly condemned the drone attack and said "it will only strengthen the hands of radical and extremist elements," an official statement said. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani condemned the strike which he said hit a council of tribal elders as "unjustifiable". "It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," he said, adding the army had protested "in the strongest possible terms".

Pakistan army chief condemns US drone strike: military
Islamabad (AFP) March 17, 2011 - Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani on Thursday condemned as "unjustifiable" a US drone strike which officials said killed 35 people in a tribal region, the military said. Civilians and police were among those killed when missiles fired by a drone ploughed into a militant training compound in Datta Khel town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in tribal North Waziristan. "Chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, strongly condemns the Predator strike carried out today in North Waziristan resulting into loss of innocent lives," the military said in a statement.

Kayani said the attack hit a meeting of tribal elders. "It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," he said. He added, "Pakistan army has already launched a protest in the strongest possible terms". "It has been highlighted clearly that such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances".

Kayani said the army offered its condolences to "the families whose dear and near ones have been martyred in this senseless attack". He added that troops had been ordered to render all possible assistance to bereaved families. It was the most lethal drone strike to hit the lawless region since August 2008 when the covert campaign escalated in the areas bordering Afghanistan, and the seventh such attack in nine days.

The governor of northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Syed Masood Kausar, also condemned the attack and said the government "will not tolerate such attacks", which are "against the sovereignty of Pakistan." "Pakistan Army wishes to assure brave people of Waziristan that we shall do our best and utmost to protect their life, honour and dignity at all costs," Kayani said. He added that the army was "fighting the terrorists and not its brethren in tribal areas".
by Staff Writers
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) March 17, 2011
Civilians and police were among 35 people killed when US missiles ploughed into a militant training compound in Pakistan's Taliban and Al-Qaeda-hit northwest on Thursday, officials said.

It was the most lethal drone strike to hit the lawless region since August 2008 when the covert campaign escalated in the areas bordering Afghanistan, and the seventh such attack in nine days.

The prime minister condemned the attack as "irrational".

"Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has strongly condemned the drone attack ... and said it will only strengthen the hands of radical and extremist elements," an official statement said.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Syed Masood Kausar, the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where the drone struck, also condemned the attack.

Kayani said the "unjustifiable" strike hit a council of tribal elders.

"It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," he said, adding the army had protested "in the strongest possible terms".

"It has been highlighted clearly that such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances".

Condemning the strike, governor Kausar said: "These attacks are against the sovereignty of Pakistan."

Although the drones operate with the tacit consent of Islamabad, Kausar said the government "will not tolerate such attacks".

Two security officials in Peshawar said that 35 people, mostly militants, were killed when four missiles hit a house in Datta Khel town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in tribal North Waziristan.

Two intelligence officials in Miranshah confirmed the toll.

"We have reports of a few civilian casualties, but most of those killed were local militants," one Miranshah official said.

"There were some civilians present inside the training centre. We were told that they came here to seek Taliban help to solve some of their disputes," a second intelligence official told AFP.

US drones have frequently targeted Datta Khel, known as a stronghold of the Taliban commander and Al-Qaeda-linked warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and the Peshawar official said the militants hit were members of the Pakistani Taliban.

On Wednesday another strike in Datta Khel killed five militants, according to officials who speak only on condition of anonymity.

The drone strikes inflame anti-US feeling, which is running particularly high after authorities released a CIA contractor on Wednesday who had been held on suspicion of murder.

Missile attacks doubled in the area last year as the campaign was stepped up, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.

Most have been concentrated in North Waziristan, the most notorious Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda bastion in Pakistan, where the United States wants the Pakistan military to launch a ground offensive as soon as possible.

Pakistan says its troops are too overstretched to launch such an assault.

Thursday's attack came as small anti-US protests were held in various cities after a Pakistani court acquitted and freed Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor being held over the lethal shooting of two men in Lahore in January.

The case had badly hit shaky ties between Washington and Islamabad, as US authorities insisted Davis had diplomatic immunity from prosecution over the deaths and pressed for his release.

$2 million in blood money was finally paid to end the row, fixing a diplomatic rift but causing further resentment among the Pakistani public, who already see the covert US drone campaign as a breach of national sovereignty.

The United States does not confirm drone attacks, but its military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy them in the region.

US officials say the missile strikes have severely weakened Al-Qaeda's leadership and killed high-value targets including the former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.



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Death toll up to 24 in NW Pakistan drone strike: officials
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) March 17, 2011
The death toll from a US drone strike in Pakistan's lawless northwest reached 24 on Thursday, and officials said all those killed were militants in the Al-Qaeda and Taliban-hit region. A security official in Peshawar said four missiles struck a militant training centre in Datta Khel town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal area, which borders ... read more







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