Foreign militants, Taliban figure die in US strike

The slain insurgent leader in Khaddi village was identified only as Mustafa.

Mir Ali: A local Taliban commander and two foreign militants were among nine people killed by a suspected US missile strike near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said on Monday.

Sunday`s strike against a house in the North Waziristan tribal area was part of the Obama administration`s campaign to use drones to target militants who regularly stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistani intelligence officials initially said the attack in Khaddi village killed six people but raised that number to nine on Monday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The slain insurgent leader was identified only as Mustafa. The officials said he was linked to Sadiq Noor, a key Taliban figure in North Waziristan.

The nationalities of the foreign fighters were unclear. Pakistan`s lawless border region is a magnet for jihadis seeking to fight NATO forces in Afghanistan or train for terrorist attacks.

Three local tribesmen sheltering the militants were identified on Sunday as among the dead.

Unmanned American drones have launched more than 100 missile strikes this year on targets in Pakistan, roughly double the number in all of 2009. The US refuses publicly to acknowledge the covert CIA attacks, but officials have said privately that they have killed several senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders over the years.

Almost all of this year`s strikes have occurred in North Waziristan, an area in which the US has repeatedly requested Pakistan conduct a military offensive to neutralise the strongholds of insurgents threatening the war effort in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has resisted, saying its military is already stretched thin by operations being conducted elsewhere.

Many analysts suspect, however, that Pakistan doesn`t want to cross Taliban militants with whom it has historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw.

The US recently sought to expand the areas in which the drones can target Taliban and al Qaeda operatives, but Pakistan refused the request because of domestic opposition to the missile strikes, a Pakistani official said over the weekend.

He was responding to a Washington Post report that the US had sought permission to use the drones — now limited to the northwestern border region — in areas around Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, where Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar is believed to operate.

An editorial on Monday in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn decried the US expansion push.

"A provincial capital bombed by a superpower ally? Unacceptable," the editorial read. "Whenever attention in the West turns to the distantness of the end to the Afghan war, pressure is publicly ratcheted up on Pakistan to `do more.`"

Pakistani officials often criticise the US drone strikes, calling them a violation of the country`s sovereignty. But the Pakistani government allows the drones to take off from bases within the country and is widely believed to provide intelligence necessary for the attacks.

Bureau Report