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Confusion Over Target Of Pakistan Drone Strike

  • RFE/RL

Reports from Pakistan's tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan say U.S. missiles fired from a pilotless drone aircraft have killed eight militants, including at least five militants of German nationality said to be of Turkish or Arab origin.

Western news agencies cited unidentified Pakistani security officials as saying that "five German rebels of Turkish origin and three local militants were killed in the strike."

RFE/RL's Radio Maashal, however, reports two other conflicting accounts. In one version, Pakistani intelligence officials said the attack killed six people -- four of them Turkmen. Another local source reported to be close to the Taliban says six local Taliban fighters were killed.

Rahimullah Yousufzai, an analyst in Peshawar, says confirmation of such reports, as well as information on the identifies of slain militants, is extremely difficult to verify. That's because there is no government presence in the area.

Inflated Numbers

The Taliban also usually surround areas targeted by missile attacks and don't allow anyone to go near -- often inflating the number of civilians killed in order to cause a public backlash and enhance their efforts to recruit more militants.

The most recent drone missile strikes were reported last night in North Waziristan, a tribal region known to be a base for the training of militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

That region also has been named as the source of a European terror plot that has prompted fresh travel warnings from the United States and other countries about attacks being planned -- with cities in Germany, Britain, and France named as possible targets. One or more German citizens are reported to have been linked to the plot.

Souad Mekhennet, a correspondent for "The New York Times" who is based in Germany, says the recruitment of people from Germany by Pakistan-based militants has been increasing in recent years.

"It definitely is also happening [in] other Western European countries. Recently, there have been arrests of a couple of British Pakistani young men in the area of Islamabad and Lahore who also described to authorities how they have been trained in some of these training camps in Waziristan," Mekhennet says.

"In the last three years, the number of people who traveled from Germany [to Waziristan] increased much more than people who traveled from other European countries. The reason for that is because these groups -- some of Uzbek origins, some of them are Turkish or even Al-Qaeda-based groups -- in the last four to five years they have increased their public relations [efforts] for [recruiting] people who are in Germany."

The latest drone strikes also come amid growing tensions between Islamabad and Washington over how the war is being fought along Pakistan's side of the border with Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Pakistan's government provides vital intelligence tips that help the CIA target militants -- cooperation that has led to a record number of drone strikes during the past month and more than 100 joint raids so far this year with the CIA.

Pakistani officials have said that more than 20 drone strikes during September killed some 120 people. They say about half of the drone strikes in September were aimed at militants from the Haqqani network in the town of Dhata Khel. They say the others targeted Pakistani Taliban and Uzbek militants in and around the town of Mir Ali.

U.S. 'Committed' To Closer Ties


U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington remained committed to building closer ties with Pakistan, recognizing that the recent floods have caused the Pakistani military to divert resources and attention away from its campaign against extremists.

"We are quite satisfied with the level of cooperation and coordination we have with Pakistan. We've had many, many direct high-level conversations. We've seen a shift in Pakistan's thinking in recent months, a great deal of activity over the past year where Pakistan has recognized the threat that these extremists pose to its own security," Crowley said.

U.S. officials in Pakistan say Washington shares everything from Predator drone observation video to satellite intelligence with Islamabad at three intelligence "fusion" centers inside the country -- one in Quetta, one in Peshawar, and one in the frontier town of Landi Kotal.

But that close cooperation behind the scenes, to the extent that it is reported in Pakistan, raises domestic political pressure against President Asif Ali Zardari's government.

Last week, after Pakistani officials charged that an air strike from a NATO helicopter killed three of their paramilitary troops in Pakistani territory, Islamabad blocked a vital border crossing used to carry supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels after talks with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that the dispute had highlighted the need for greater cooperation between Pakistani and NATO forces.

"It is important that we step up our cooperation in the border region. We must, together, prevent militants from crossing the border to attack and kill Afghans and international soldiers," Rasmussen said. "And finally, I expressed my hope that the border will opened for supplies as soon as possible. The [Pakistani] foreign minister committed work on that, for which I am very grateful."

While the Torkham border crossing and the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan remain closed, NATO supply convoys have come under attack in Pakistan. Pakistani Taliban militants on October 4 claimed responsibility for two attacks in which nearly 60 NATO supply trucks were torched.

RFE/RL's Radio Maashall contributed to this report
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