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U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan kill Taliban militants

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010; A08

Back-to-back missile strikes on a training camp in Pakistan's lawless tribal region killed at least 13 militants Wednesday, the latest in a string of apparent U.S. attacks on Taliban targets in the wake of last week's suicide bombing at a CIA base in Afghanistan, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

Pakistani sources said both missiles were fired by what appeared to be remote-controlled drone aircraft. The CIA has staged more than 50 such strikes in the past year in Pakistan's autonomous tribal belt, long a sanctuary to Taliban militants and, U.S. officials believe, al-Qaeda's top leadership.

Wednesday's attacks brought to five the number of strikes against Taliban targets since Dec. 30, when a suicide bomber killed eight U.S. and allied intelligence operatives at the CIA's Forward Operating Base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan.

The CIA declines to comment on such missile strikes, and U.S. counterterrorism officials cautioned Wednesday against linking the latest attacks to last week's bombing. However, the five strikes within a week were extraordinarily unusual. Moreover, most of the recent attacks -- including Wednesday's in a village called Sanzali -- have occurred across the border from the Afghan province of Khost, home to the Chapman base.

News of the drone attacks came as an al-Qaeda group issued a new claim of responsibility for the bombing of the CIA base. A statement posted on extremist Web sites by Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, head of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, said the attack was intended to avenge the deaths of three al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, according to a translation of the statement by SITE Intelligence Group. All three named were killed in previous drone strikes. Yazid hailed the penetration of a U.S. intelligence stronghold as a "successful epic."

Some counterterrorism experts have urged American commanders to refrain from an overly aggressive response to the attack on the CIA base. Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said an expansion of drone strikes could stir a backlash in Pakistan.

"Public sentiment in the hinterland is dead set against these strikes in the first place," Nawaz said.

U.S. analysts were exploring possible links between the Haqqani network, a Taliban group closely allied to al-Qaeda, and suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian who attacked the CIA base.

Relatives of Balawi, interviewed Wednesday in Jordan, said he was pressured to become an informant after Jordanian authorities arrested him because of his support for extremist causes.

"He got called in and interrogated," a man who identified himself as Balawi's brother said when reached by phone in Amman, Jordan's capital. "After that, he was under a lot of pressure."

Special correspondent Ranya Kadri in Amman contributed to this report.

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