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Drone attack in Pakistan Taliban stronghold kills at least three

The airstrike hit North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan. Also Monday, Pakistan said it was on the verge of a major victory – arresting Swat militant chief Maulana Fazlullah.

By Jonathan AdamsCorrespondent / September 14, 2009



Another suspected United States drone attack early Monday killed three militants in northwestern Pakistan, as well as two others.

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Such airstrikes are launched regularly on the mountainous tribal region bordering Afghanistan, a stronghold for the Taliban, despite official Pakistani objections. Monday's came as the Pakistani government announced the impending arrest of a top militant, Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

The BBC reported that villagers in North Waziristan said that all five men who were killed were Taliban, and that the villagers saw a drone "hovering over the area" before the attack.

The Associated Press put the death toll at four, and noted that Pakistan and the US continue to be at odds over the strikes.

Monday's attack took place about 1.5 miles (3 kilometers) from the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, killing four people, two officials and witnesses said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they need to remain unnamed to do their job effectively.
The identities of the victims were not known.
Witnesses Ikramullah Khan and Mohammad Salim said the missile hit a vehicle with blacked-out windows — a style associated with Taliban fighters in the region.

Pakistan objects that such strikes are a violation of its sovereignty, while the US has noted the strikes' success in killing militants. Other observers have decried the number of bystanders killed in such attacks. (See cartoo here.)

Reuters calculated that the US had launched 56 such drone strikes since the start of 2008, killing about 500 people.

But Islamonline.net, a web portal dedicated to Muslim issues, said 1,200 civilians had been killed in the strikes, with only 16 being Taliban or Al Qaeda.

The portal said thousands of Pakistani civilians had fled to South Waziristan because of the attacks, and recently interviewed one such displaced person, Behroz Gul.

“They (drones) don’t care, who is being killed,” said Gul.

“They just see any ceremony or congregation, and hurl missiles irrespective of the fact that who are the victims.”

Also Monday, an official said that a top Taliban leader in the troubled Swat valley, Maulana Fazlullah, was now trapped by Pakistani troops. The Swat valley, northeast of North Waziristan, was seized by Taliban troops, leading to a Pakistani military offensive to take back the area starting in late April. (See BBC map here.)

The Nation, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that the interior minister said Mr. Fazlullah's days of freedom were numbered, that other captured Taliban had informed on him, and that after his arrest Pakistani troops would move swiftly to deal with the remaining Taliban leaders in Swat.

[Pakistani Interior Minister] Rehman Malik said that he wanted to tell Fazlullah that security forces were about to arrest him. He added that the arrested Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan and others had disclosed valuable information and on the basis of their disclosure, the security forces were raiding the hideouts of the militants.
He said that the government would register a case against Fazlullah under the terrorist act. Malik said that after the operation against Fazlullah, another extremist leader Mangal Bagh would be the next target of the security agencies and the forces would handle him in the same way as they had handled others in Swat.

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