After vows to respect sovereignty, U.S. strikes again in Pakistan
By Saeed Shah • McClatchy Newspapers • September 17, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A U.S. missile strike today in Pakistan further inflamed relations between the two anti-terrorism allies, hours after the U.S. military chief vowed to “respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.” The strike against suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal area, which runs along the Afghan border, is thought to be the sixth such attack this month. It came as Washington is demanding that Islamabad do more to prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists from using its territory.
Pakistani leaders have condemned the U.S. military interventions, which include the first documented U.S. ground raid in the country earlier this month. The strikes have caused an uproar in Pakistan.
Four missiles were fired from unmanned U.S. aircraft today at a suspected militant hideout at around 7 p.m. local time in a village in South Waziristan, killing at least six people, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to journalists.
U.S. strikes were used infrequently in the tribal area in the past, but there has been an intensified bombardment over the last few weeks. Washington thinks that Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters allied against the coalition in Afghanistan are using Pakistan’s tribal territory as a refuge. Some analysts think the Bush administration is trying to land major Al Qaeda scalps before the end of his term. Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are thought to be most likely hiding in the tribal area.
The target of Wednesday’s strike is thought to be a compound used by Taliban and the Hezb-i-Islami, a militant group fighting in Afghanistan that’s associated with the veteran jihadist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The previous aerial assaults have killed militants, including senior Al Qaeda commanders, but also dozens of civilians.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was making a surprise visit to Pakistan, said in a statement released by the American Embassy in Islamabad that he “reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation” after talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. A separate statement from the Pentagon made no mention of respecting Pakistani sovereignty.
“Pakistan would not allow anyone to take action on its soil, as it has capacity to deal with the terrorists,” said Pakistan’s defense minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, who spoke before the latest strike. “But we can’t pick up guns and say, ‘We’re coming.’ We have to proceed diplomatically.”
Without Pakistan’s help, U.S. and coalition forces have little hope of stemming supplies and militants crossing into Afghanistan from the tribal area, analysts think. There also are signs that the U.S. assaults could trigger a mass uprising by moderate tribesman living in the tribal territory.
“It’s a very fundamental issue of Pakistani sovereignty,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general turned analyst. “This just cannot be tolerated, that there are continued violations and we are still called an ally. I think this will have to be reviewed for the sake of both sides.” [Go here for the original article.]