By Nahal Toosi
Monday, March 2, 2009
ISLAMABAD, March 1 -- Suspected U.S. missiles killed seven people in a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, while a cleric's two-week deadline for the creation of Islamic courts rattled peace talks with militants elsewhere in the country's northwest.
The missile strike underscored the Obama administration's unwillingness to abandon a Bush-era tactic, despite persistent Pakistani protests. The missiles landed in Murghiban village in the South Waziristan tribal region and wounded three people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said. At least four of the dead were thought to be foreign fighters, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
They said that unmanned aircraft thought to be used by the United States were seen in the sky before the strike and that Taliban fighters surrounded the damaged area afterward. The compound was alleged to be a militant training facility, the officials said, citing field informants.
The United States has dramatically stepped up missile attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan's northwest since mid-2008, a policy that has not changed under President Obama. Pakistan insists the strikes inflame anti-American sentiment and often kill civilians, though many analysts speculate that the two countries have a secret deal that allows such raids.
Pakistan has turned to peace talks to deal with some insurgent groups, much to Washington's consternation.
Last month, Pakistan agreed to implement Islamic law in the Swat Valley, a former tourist haven where militants have gained tremendous sway. The Swat Taliban and the military agreed to a cease-fire after months of fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced up to one-third of the valley's 1.5 million residents.
The provincial government in northwestern Pakistan made the pledge to establish Islamic courts in Swat and surrounding areas to Sufi Muhammad, a pro-Taliban cleric who agreed to negotiate with the local Taliban fighters, who are led by his son-in-law. Muhammad said Sunday that it did not appear that the government was holding up its end of the bargain. He set a March 15 deadline for the Islamic courts to start running.