Suspected US missile strike kills 27: Pakistani officials

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 14, 2009 (AFP) - A suspected US missile strike destroyed a major Taliban training camp in Pakistan Saturday, killing at least 27 mainly Al-Qaeda foreign operatives, security officials said.

Two missiles fired by an unmanned drone struck the camp of top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud in the tribal area of Ladha near the Afghan border, they said, adding Mehsud was not in the camp at the time of the strike.

Two Arabs, some local Taliban and a number of Uzbeks were killed in the strike, the latest in a series of such attacks which have drawn strong protest from Pakistan.

"The death toll in the twin missile strikes has jumped to 27," a senior security official told AFP, revising upward the earlier toll of 20.

Mehsud heads the much feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and is the country's most wanted militant, accused of plotting the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Residents said Taliban militants surrounded the attack site, which was in an isolated area, and would not let anyone inside. The building was completely destroyed and number of bodies were buried in the rubble.

The latest drone strike came despite Pakistan's hopes the US administration of President Barack Obama would review the policy and abandon what Islamabad has called a violation of its sovereignty.

Several Al-Qaeda operatives have been killed in similar US missile strikes in the past year.

But the strikes have fuelled anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and particularly in the tribal belt, where Washington says Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries exist.

The lawless tribal areas in northwest Pakistan have been wracked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels sought refuge in the region after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.

In January a US drone attack killed the head of Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan, Kenyan national Usama al-Kini, and his lieutenant Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan in South Waziristan.

Another US drone attack in November killed Rashid Rauf, the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of a 2006 transatlantic airplane bombing plot, as well as an Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative, security officials have said.

More than two dozen similar strikes have been carried out since August 2008, killing more than 200 people, most of them militants.

Most of the previous US strikes targeted areas under the control of Maulvi Nazir, a key Taliban commander accused by the United States of recruiting and sending fighters to Afghanistan to attack US and NATO forces.

The incident comes a day after US envoy Richard Holbrooke left Pakistan, where he visited the northwest and held talks with military commanders about the fight against extremists.

Pakistani troops have been battling Islamic militants in the lawless tribal region as well as in the sprawling northern Swat valley.

US and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on militants, who cross the border to attack US and NATO troops.

Pakistan rejects those accusations.

Source: AFP

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