By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 8, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 7 -- At least 12 people were killed Friday when two missiles slammed into a village in northwestern Pakistan in a suspected U.S. airstrike near the border with Afghanistan, according to a Pakistani intelligence official.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on such matters, said the identities of those killed were still unknown as of early Friday evening. He initially said 19 people were killed in the strike but said other reports suggested the figure might be closer to 12 or 13.
The missile strike on the tribal village of Kam Sam in North Waziristan was the first since Pakistan's top defense official warned the newly appointed head of the U.S. military's Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to halt air assaults inside Pakistan. Petraeus said during a visit to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad this week that he would heed the concerns of Pakistan about the strikes. But during a subsequent visit to Afghanistan, he touted the success of such attacks in eliminating top Taliban commanders and has made no public promise to end the U.S.-led cross-border missile strikes.
More than 100 people have been killed since August in 18 U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan's restive tribal frontier lands along the border with Afghanistan. Largely ungoverned, Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas have increasingly come to be seen by U.S. officials as the pivot point in the war on Islamist insurgents in the region.
The majority of U.S. missile strikes have targeted suspected insurgent safe havens in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, which have long been considered strongholds for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. A cross-border ground raid Sept. 3 by U.S. troops near the town of Angor Adda in North Waziristan left up to 15 people dead.
The Pakistani intelligence official said four foreign fighters were among those killed when the missiles fired from an unmanned U.S. aircraft crashed into Kam Sam about 10:30 a.m. The targeted area is near the border that divides North and South Waziristan and alongside the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost, where clashes between U.S.-led forces and Taliban fighters have been particularly fierce in recent weeks.
Pakistani military officials declined to comment on the missile strike in Kam Sam. The United States generally does not comment on missile strikes in Pakistan and has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility in any of the latest attacks.
The missile strikes have raised the ire of top Pakistani officials who say the attacks undermine U.S. credibility in the region and fuel anti-American sentiment. On Monday, Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar warned Petraeus that further strikes would provoke "outrage" among Pakistanis.
The U.S.-led attacks have already prompted a number of anti-American protests in Pakistan's tribal areas, including several that attracted thousands of people following the September raid in Angor Adda. Experts on the region say the strikes have sown widespread fears about future attacks among many of the estimated 3 million people who live there.
Brig. Gen. Mahmood Shah, former longtime head of government security in the tribal areas, said the missile attacks have become noticeably more precise, leading some to believe that local tribesmen in the border areas are supplying the U.S. military with better information about targets.
Shah said rumors about so-called U.S. spies among the tribes have fed paranoia about the possibility that signaling devices have been deployed in area villages. Tribesmen have lately made a habit of sweeping the areas around their homes for such devices, he said. "They're not sitting outside in their compounds anymore because they are afraid that they will be struck by these missiles," Shah said. "These people have their own enmity between each other, so there is a fear that they could just throw one of these chips or devices into their enemy's house."
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.