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U.S. Missiles 'Don't Help' Pakistan's War Against Militants

January 25, 2009

(RFE/RL) -- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has sharply criticized U.S. missile strikes on suspected terrorists in his country's tribal region.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar quoted Zardari as saying that "the attacks do not help the war on terror."

Babar said that the president made the criticism during a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson during a meeting on January 24.

The Pakistani leaders remarks underline again Islamabad's anger over twin missile strikes on January 23 that killed 22 people.

Officials say eight of the victims were suspected foreign militants, the rest are unidentified but said to include an unspecified number of civilians.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 23 that it hoped the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama will review the policy of using missiles fired from drone aircraft. The attack is the first since Obama took office.

The Foreign Ministry said that "with the advent of the new U.S. administration it is Pakistan's sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach."

It added, "We maintain that these attacks are counterproductive and should be discontinued."

The twin strikes hit Al-Qaeda strongholds in Waziristan, killing eight suspected foreign militants among the 22 victims. One of the identified militants is Egyptian operative Mustafa al-Misri. Pakistani officials say they are now trying to learn what level of seniority he had in the terrorist network.

Regular Strikes

The United States does not directly acknowledge it conducts missile strikes in Pakistan's border region. That is in deference to Islamabad's insistence that U.S. forces do not operate within Pakistan as part of the global "war on terror" -- which Islamabad supports.

However, drone aircraft based in neighboring Afghanistan are regularly reported to fly over the tribal areas and these aircraft are equipped with guided missiles.

And in recent months, the number of missile attacks on targets in the tribal areas has steadily increased.

Reuters has reported that there have been more than 30 strikes since August, more than half of them during the past four months.

The news agency cited reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials, and residents as indicating more than 220 people, including foreign militants, have been killed in the attacks recorded since August.

The attacks cause Islamabad to regularly protest to Washington, but not with the emphasis of this weekend's criticism and not publicly at the presidential level.

Islamabad is a major recipient of U.S. military and development aid in return for its support of the war on terror. That means Pakistan must balance its sensitivity over entry into its airspace by the U.S. drones with its desire to remain a key U.S. security partner.

At the same time, Pakistani forces are themselves fighting militants in parts of the tribal areas. Islamabad's strategy interchanges military campaigns with efforts to win hearts and minds by making peace alliances with tribal leaders

Some Pakistani officials regard the U.S. strikes as complicating Islamabad's dual strategy by raising public anger over civilian casualties.

Yet, the air strikes also extend the reach of counterterrorism efforts into remote areas where Al-Qaeda operatives can hide. That may be helpful to Pakistan's military, which is unable to control the border region.

compiled from agency reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/US_Missiles_Dont_Help_Pakistans_War_Against_Militants/1374402.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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