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Pakistani tribesmen protest against US drone strikes

by Staff Writers
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) Sept 30, 2010
Tribesmen in Pakistan's most notorious militant stronghold observed a shut-down Thursday to protest against a major surge in US drone attacks, witnesses and elders said.

"We are protesting against the drone attacks. Americans are killing innocent civilians but the government has completely failed to protect us," Malik Jalal, a tribal elder and one of the strike organisers told AFP.

Shops, markets and bazaars closed in the four main towns of North Waziristan on Thursday, including the district capital Miranshah, an AFP reporter said.

Pakistani officials have reported that at least 21 US drone attacks have killed around 120 people in September, the highest monthly tally of attacks.

The overwhelming majority of the attacks have been carried out in North Waziristan, considered Pakistan's most notorious bastion of Al-Qaeda-linked and Taliban commanders opposed to the US-led war in Afghanistan.

Most of the strikes have targeted the Haqqani network, one of the strongest US foes in Afghanistan whose leadership is based in North Waziristan.

But local tribesmen claimed the US missiles were killing civilians.

"They are attacking civilians, they are killing women, children and old-age people," Jalal told AFP.

"The government should take immediate steps to stop drone attacks otherwise it should resign," said former lawmaker Maulana Mohammad Deendar.

Washington has classified Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border as a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.

A covert US drone war in Pakistan has killed around 1,140 people in about 140 strikes since August 2008, including a number of senior militants, but the attacks fuel anti-American sentiment in the conservative Muslim country.

Under US pressure to crack down on Islamist havens, Pakistan has stepped up military operations against largely homegrown militants in the area.

But commanders have so far avoided a major offensive in North Waziristan, arguing that gains elsewhere need to be consolidated to prevent their troops from being stretched too thin.

earlier related report
WikiLeaks founder blasts Pentagon amid Afghan files row
London (AFP) Sept 30, 2010 - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Thursday the Pentagon was intent on destroying the whistleblower website and denied it had endangered innocent people.

The 39-year-old said WikiLeaks faced a fierce onslaught from the Pentagon after releasing tens of thousands of classified US military documents on the Afghan war.

"I need to express the seriousness of the attack against this media organisation," he told an audience in London.

"The Pentagon has demanded... that we destroy, totally destroy, our previous publications, including that Afghan publication.

"The Pentagon is trying to get up an espionage case and destroy our organisation," the Australian former computer hacker added:

His warning was the latest salvo in a war of words between the website and US military chiefs since WikiLeaks published nearly 77,000 classified US military documents on the war in Afghanistan on July 23.

Assange had previously said a further 15,000 from the massive cache are being prepared for release.

The released files included allegations that Pakistani spies met with the Taliban and that deaths of innocent civilians at the hands of international forces were covered up.

But the documents also included names of some Afghan informants, prompting claims that the leaks have endangered lives.

Assange insisted Thursday the site aimed to protect people.

"We do not have a goal of innocent people being harmed. We have precisely the opposite goal," he said at London's City University.

Asked about the approach taken to vetting the documents, he refused to go into details but said: "We took a harm limitation approach... we think that that effort was pretty good."

Assange denied reports that WikiLeaks's representative in Germany was suspended over criticisms of the way the website was run.

Daniel Schmitt told German news magazine Der Spiegel that Assange had unilaterally taken the decision to suspend him and had "reacted to the smallest criticism by accusing me of being disobedient and disloyal towards the project."

But Assange dismissed this as "absolute lies". "He was suspended a month ago for other reasons," said the WikiLeaks founder, without giving details.

Assange has recently been based in Sweden but his time there has been clouded by rape allegations against him. He has said the allegations are part of a "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting his website.

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US drone strike kills four militants in Pakistan
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) Sept 27, 2010
A US drone strike killed four militants Monday and destroyed a rebel compound in Pakistan's lawless tribal badlands along the Afghan border, local security officials said. Pakistani officials say unmanned US aircraft have significantly stepped up attacks on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked operatives in the semi-autonomous region this month, clocking up at least 19 attacks in 24 days. Monday' ... read more

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