Suspected US missile strike kills 15 in Pakistan

10:00, 13 March 2009
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Two missiles fired...

A suspected US missile strike destroyed a Taliban training camp in northwest Pakistan, killing 15 militants and Al-Qaeda operatives, as well as wounding another 50, security officials said Friday, according to AFP.

Two missiles fired by an unmanned drone pulverised the den in the tribal area of Kurram, one of seven such semi-autonomous regions near Pakistan`s porous border with Afghanistan, where US troops are battling Taliban fighters.

"Fifteen militants were killed and 50 wounded," a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. He had initially said at least seven militants, including "foreigners" -- a reference to Al-Qaeda -- were killed.

No high-value targets were believed to have died, the official added.

Another security official said most of the dead were Afghan Taliban.

"The training centre was run by local Taliban commander Fazal Saeed and training was underway at the time of the strike," the official added.

Taliban militants sealed off the area and retrieved bodies from the rubble of the building after the strike late Thursday.

More than 30 such strikes have killed over 330 people since August 2008, shortly before key Washington ally President Asif Ali Zardari was elected.

The US military as a rule does not confirm drone attacks but the armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy drones in the region.

Thursday`s attack was the fifth missile strike blamed on unmanned US aircraft since President Barack Obama came to power, dashing Pakistani hopes that the new administration would abandon the policy.

Islamabad has repeatedly protested to Washington that drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the 160 million people of the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.

The unpopular Zardari is locked in a showdown with the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, which is fanning political turmoil on top of economic meltdown and Islamist bombings that have killed more than 1,600 people in two years.

Police on Thursday baton-charged against protesters and blockaded activists from leaving Pakistan`s biggest city of Karachi in a government clampdown on a planned country-wide march that has seen hundreds detained.

Lawyers, party opposition supporters and civil society activists plan to descend on the capital Islamabad by Monday to demand that Zardari act on promises to reinstate judges sacked by ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

Obama says extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where US troops are fighting the Taliban, pose a grave threat and Washington has vowed to counter militants hunkered down in the border areas.

Mountainous and remote, Kurram is a known hub of Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan`s most wanted militant, and Siraj Uddil Haqqani, de facto commander of Taliban groups on the border area.

Mehsud heads the much feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and is accused of plotting the 2007 assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, Zardari`s wife.

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.

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 and says more than 1,500 Pakistani troops have been killed at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2002.

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