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US drone kills 20 as Taliban attack forces in Pakistan

US drone strike kills 20 in unpopular militant-hunting campaign north Pakistan, Washington and Islamabad exchange criticism

AFP , Friday 22 Apr 2011
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A US drone attack killed 20 militants in northwest Pakistan Friday, officials said, while 16 security forces died in Taliban ambushes elsewhere in the frontier region.

The missile strike was the first to hit North Waziristan tribal district since a diplomatic furore erupted between Pakistan and the United States over a drone attack on March 17, which killed 39 people including civilians.

"US drones fired five missiles on a compound in Spinwam, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Miranshah," said a local intelligence official. Miranshah is the main town in North Waziristan tribal district.

"Several people were also wounded in the attack," he said, adding the incident took place before dawn.

A security official in Peshawar gave a death toll of at least 20, a figure confirmed by local and security authorities in Miranshah.

In the far north of the troubled region bordering war-torn Afghanistan, 16 security officials were killed on Thursday in Taliban attacks on a checkpost being set up on the frontier, a military official said.

He said 200 armed militants had surrounded the post in the Kharkai area of Lower Dir, a district bordering Afghanistan's eastern Nuristan province.

Fourteen security officials died in the first ambush, he said, and a further two were killed in a subsequent attack on troops sent to reinforce the position.

In the first attack, "14 people were killed including nine Frontier Corps soldiers and five police officials," the official said, adding that five or six other officials were wounded.

The violence comes as US and Pakistani officials wrangle over their counterterrorism efforts on the border and the unpopular US missile campaign.

Most drone attacks have been 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.

The strikes inflame anti-US feeling, which is already running high after the January killing of two Pakistani men in a busy Lahore street by a US embassy official later revealed to be working for the CIA.

Last month's US drone attack led Pakistani civilian and military leaders to publicly protest the civilian casualties, although the drone campaign is believed to operate with the tacit consent of the government.

Islamabad offered compensation to the families of the 39 victims and called the US ambassador to the foreign ministry to formally protest the incident.

Missile attacks doubled last year, 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.

American drones resumed attacks in Pakistan on April 13 for the first time in nearly a month, targeting fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in South Waziristan near the Afghan border.

That strike came one day after a Washington meeting between Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, which runs the drone war.

On Thursday army chief General Kayani issued a statement that said drones "not only undermine our national effort against terrorism but also turn public support against our efforts".

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a trip to Islamabad this week accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of having ties with the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan's northwest tribal belt.

The White House also criticised Pakistan's efforts to defeat the Taliban operating on the border in a report this month that was rejected by Islamabad.

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