Airstrike Kills 18 in Pakistan

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 17, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 16 -- At least 18 people were killed in a missile strike in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, according to witnesses and officials.

The missiles struck a house in the village of Shahnawaz Kot near the town of Wana in South Waziristan, a restive tribal region known as a refuge for pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Local residents said they heard the sound of a warplane overhead, then three successive explosions. The strike, which demolished the house, also left several people wounded.

"When I heard the explosions, I rushed to the place where it happened. I saw dead bodies scattered everywhere," said Aziz Ullah Wazir, a village resident. "There were scores of people surrounding the collapsed building."

Local residents said the home that was struck belonged to a man named Noorullah Wazir, whom they described as a Taliban supporter. Over the last year, villagers said, Wazir had allowed into his house several Arab visitors who were believed to have ties to guerrillas in the area.

Pakistani military officials confirmed Sunday that explosions were heard in the village and that several people had been injured, but said it was unclear what caused the blasts. Brig. Muhammad Tariq Jilani, an army spokesman, said there were no Pakistani troops operating in the area at the time.

"There are not a lot of details available right now. We are looking into it," Jilani said.

The U.S. military during the last year has launched missile strikes against targets inside Pakistan's borders. In January, a missile fired by an unmanned U.S. drone in North Waziristan killed several suspected guerrillas, including a top al-Qaeda leader, Abu Laith al-Libi. Last month, 13 people were killed after what was believed to be drone struck a suspected Taliban safe house in South Waziristan.

American and Pakistani military officials have steadfastly declined to speak publicly about the airstrikes in the tribal regions, because such strikes would be considered an impingement on Pakistani sovereignty. But U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan -- launched as part of American-led counterterrorism efforts -- have become an increasing source of tension between the two allies.

Pakistani military officials lodged a formal complaint with U.S.-led coalition forces in the region after artillery fire from Afghanistan on Wednesday killed two women and two children in North Waziristan. Jilani said Saturday that the matter would be reviewed by the tripartite commission, composed of senior military and diplomatic representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States.

Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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