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US strike kills wife of Pakistani Taliban chief: officials

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

Winning trust of Afghans takes time: Dutch general
NATO-led troops in a southern Afghan province have succeeded in shifting the momentum against Taliban insurgents, but it has taken years of patient effort, a Dutch general said on Tuesday. It took two years of security operations against Taliban insurgents, and 24-hour patrols, to begin winning the trust of local Afghans in the impoverished province of Uruzgan, said Brigadier General Tom Middendorp, who oversees NATO troops in the province. Pushing the insurgents out of population centers was the easiest aspect of the campaign, but ensuring a constant presence of NATO troops and forging ties with the local population took more time and effort, the general told reporters by video link. "The clear operations are always successful, but then comes the hard part. And that's to maintain that presence in the area and to gain the trust of the population," Middendorp said. "And that took us two years in the secure areas that we were in." Two years earlier, the Dutch troops often had firefights with the Taliban in the area but the insurgents now rarely initiate combat, and instead rely on roadside bombs, said Middendorp. The experience illustrated that there are no "quick fixes" in the counter-insurgency campaign, he said. "But it's a process of years, and it's a process of gaining trust of the population, of having many, many interactions with the population. And it's also a process of being there day and night," he said. The Dutch were carrying out foot patrols after dark to provide a sense of security for local Afghans, he said. As villages were secured by NATO troops, Afghan army and police forces moved in after having been absent two years earlier, Middendorp said. He said the improved security conditions in Uruzgan had allowed for up to 50 development organizations to begin operating in the area, which borders Helmand province where thousands of US Marines are carrying out an offensive against insurgents. The Dutch general called Uruzgan "the poorest province of one of the poorest countries in the world" with literacy levels at less than ten percent. "And if you walk through that province, it's like walking through the Old Testament."
by Staff Writers
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Aug 5, 2009
The wife of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed Wednesday in a US drone attack targeting her husband at a home in the tribal belt near the Afghan border, officials said.

Suspected US unmanned aircraft and Pakistani strikes have increasingly focused on strongholds of warlord Mehsud, whom Washington calls a key Al-Qaeda facilitator and served with a five-million-dollar price on his head.

The death of his second wife, believed to have been in her early 20s, suggested the net may be closing in on Mehsud but stoked fears of revenge in nuclear-armed Pakistan, on the frontline of the war against Islamist militancy.

The house targeted in the strike belonged to the wife's father, Maulana Ikram-ud-Din, and was located in Laddah village in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan's lawless tribal badlands outside direct government control.

"We have confirmed reports that the wife of Baitullah Mehsud died in this US drone attack," said an administration official in South Waziristan.

A senior Pakistani security official told AFP that the target was Mehsud, but had no confirmation on whether he was at the property when the attack happened or whether he was hurt.

Officials confirmed initially that two militants were killed when two missiles slammed into the building at around 1:30 am (1930 GMT Tuesday).

Iqbal Mehsud, a nephew of Ikram-ud-Din, confirmed Mehsud's wife was killed and four of Ikram-ud-Din's grandchildren were wounded, but that his pro-Taliban cleric uncle and the Taliban chief himself were "safe".

Warlord Mehsud took Ikram-ud-Din's daughter as his second wife late last year and is often thought to be accompanied by members of his family when he travels from base to base. Under Islam, a man is entitled to four wives.

After the attack, local residents said Mehsud's men cordoned off the site and were sifting through the rubble.

Washington has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda and has ordered an extra 21,000 troops in Afghanistan in a bid to stabilise the neighbouring country for elections as part of a sweeping new war plan.

The United States military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, but its armed forces and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy unmanned aircraft in the region.

Pakistan has also carried out air strikes against Mehsud hideouts and commanders have vowed to hunt down the warlord's militant network in the remote northwest region known as a base for Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels.

But Islamabad publicly opposes suspected US strikes, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace. Since August 2008, around 50 such strikes have killed more than 500 people.

"We want drone attacks stopped. We are taking up this matter with America again and again," foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told reporters.

"Pakistan has the capability to do this operation itself," he added.

Analysts said Mehsud was facing serious pressure but warned that the killing of his wife could have negative repercussions for the US role in helping ally Pakistan battle Islamist militants considered an existential threat.

"The strikes are getting closer... unless he (Mehsud) is really targeted, it would be premature to judge whether any substantial progress has been made," said Pakistani security analyst Talat Masood.

"The killing of Mehsud's wife of course will not be taken very well in Muslim societies and will have a negative effect," he said.

Mehsud has allegedly masterminded multiple deadly bombings. The United States and previous Pakistani government blamed him for masterminding the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which he denied.

About 2,000 people have died in bombings across the country since July 2007, when government forces besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad, and Mehsud loyalists have claimed responsibility for some of the worst attacks.

Washington alleges Islamist fighters hide out in the mountains near the Afghan border, plotting attacks on Western targets and crossing the porous frontier to attack foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

earlier related report
Winning trust of Afghans takes time: Dutch general
NATO-led troops in a southern Afghan province have succeeded in shifting the momentum against Taliban insurgents, but it has taken years of patient effort, a Dutch general said on Tuesday.

It took two years of security operations against Taliban insurgents, and 24-hour patrols, to begin winning the trust of local Afghans in the impoverished province of Uruzgan, said Brigadier General Tom Middendorp, who oversees NATO troops in the province.

Pushing the insurgents out of population centers was the easiest aspect of the campaign, but ensuring a constant presence of NATO troops and forging ties with the local population took more time and effort, the general told reporters by video link.

"The clear operations are always successful, but then comes the hard part. And that's to maintain that presence in the area and to gain the trust of the population," Middendorp said.

"And that took us two years in the secure areas that we were in."

Two years earlier, the Dutch troops often had firefights with the Taliban in the area but the insurgents now rarely initiate combat, and instead rely on roadside bombs, said Middendorp.

The experience illustrated that there are no "quick fixes" in the counter-insurgency campaign, he said.

"But it's a process of years, and it's a process of gaining trust of the population, of having many, many interactions with the population. And it's also a process of being there day and night," he said.

The Dutch were carrying out foot patrols after dark to provide a sense of security for local Afghans, he said.

As villages were secured by NATO troops, Afghan army and police forces moved in after having been absent two years earlier, Middendorp said.

He said the improved security conditions in Uruzgan had allowed for up to 50 development organizations to begin operating in the area, which borders Helmand province where thousands of US Marines are carrying out an offensive against insurgents.

The Dutch general called Uruzgan "the poorest province of one of the poorest countries in the world" with literacy levels at less than ten percent.

"And if you walk through that province, it's like walking through the Old Testament."

Improvised explosives remained the biggest threat against the NATO-led troops in the area, and US and Australian special forces were targeting insurgent networks behind the roadside bombs, he said.

The general spoke after three Dutch soldiers were wounded Saturday when their light armored vehicle struck an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Uruzgan.

The new commander of US and NATO forces, General Stanley McChrystal, has called for putting a higher priority on safeguarding the population instead of hunting down insurgents and ordered air power scaled back where possible to avoid civilian casualties.

A US general in the country's east said the more restrained approach to combat near populated areas that McChrystal has ordered meant his forces were moving with more caution.

"I think that in some cases it may have slowed the pace of our operations in the sense that we take more time, we allow a situation to develop to ensure that we know whether or not civilians are in the area," Major General Curtis Scaparrotti told reporters in an earlier video conference.

"We may maneuver a little more to gain a more advantageous position, where we know that we can exclude any civilian casualties," he said.

Civilian casualties caused mainly by NATO air strikes have caused an angry backlash in the country and McChrystal has issued orders calling on US forces to exercise restraint to minimize the risk of civilian deaths.

About 63,000 US troops and some 33,000 other foreign troops are deployed in Afghanistan.

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