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As Pakistan sharply rebukes United States Predator drone attacks inside Pakistani territory, the Obama administration plans to turn up the number of those attacks in Pakistan's restive tribal belt, according to news reports.
The controversial announcement comes as fierce fighting erupted between the Taliban and a homegrown militia force that the Pakistani government is backing against the extremist force, according to Dawn, an influential English newspaper in Pakistan.
Three police officials, two Lashkar (militia) men and sixteen militants were killed in [an] overnight clash between Taliban and Qaumi Lashkar in Buner district, police and residents said on Tuesday.
The fierce fighting erupted on Monday night when the Qaumi Lashkar and local police force made efforts to enter the Gokand valley via Rajagaly Kandow from Pir Baba side to flush out Taliban militants who had sneaked in to the district on Saturday from neighbouring Swat.
Residents and police officials said a group of some 60 Taliban militants armed with light and heavy weapons managed to cross from Swat and take control of the mountain top in neighbouring Buner district.
More fighting is expected in Buner, reports The Nation, a Pakistani daily.
The situation in Buner is further deteriorating when the Taliban militants have refused to leave the area after killing of four people including three policemen. People from all over scattered areas of Buner particularly from Daggar, Gagra and Gadezai Tehsil are consolidating their positions with a view to forcing the Taliban to return to Swat.
The possible spread of the Taliban out of the Swat Valley highlights the heated debate currently underway between Washington and Islamabad over how best to neutralize the militant group on either side of the Afghan border.
But while those attacks may have proved effective in eliminating terrorist targets, they have sowed deep resentment among Pakistani officials and violent responses from the militants themselves.
Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, vowed last week to carry out two strikes a week inside Pakistan as retaliation against the drone attacks, and even threatened an attack on Washington if those attacks continue, reports the Associated Press.
"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud said in a phone interview, without providing details.
The Taliban are not the only ones who are upset. Pakistani officials reportedly rebuked US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen as the officials made a visit to Pakistan this week, according to Dawn. The Pakistani officials rejected a US proposal for joint military operations against the militants, according to the newspaper, and criticized the drone attacks.
The sources said the US officials were also told that continuing drone attacks inside Pakistan's territory were counter-productive and they were asked to shift the drone technology and authority to the Pakistan Army.
The sources said that army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during his meeting with Mr Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen, also took a tough stance over drone attacks. He voiced serious concern over the tirade of allegations against Inter-Services Intelligence levelled by US generals and said that linking the ISI with the Taliban was inappropriate.
Agence France-Presse points out that the official visit is the "first since President Barack Obama last month unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan, drawn up after a two-month assessment of flagging efforts to subdue an extremist insurgency and stabilise the turbulent country."
Obama's NATO allies backed his Afghan war plan at a summit on Saturday, also pledging up to 5,000 more troops to add to 21,000 US soldiers the US leader said he would send to Afghanistan.
Despite the tough talk from Islamabad, senior US officials said Monday that the US intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan's tribal areas and might extend them to a different sanctuary deeper inside the country, reports The New York Times.
Officials are also proposing to broaden the missile strikes to Baluchistan, south of the tribal areas, unless Pakistan manages to reduce the incursion of militants there....
American officials say the missile strikes have forced some Taliban and Qaeda leaders to flee south toward Quetta, a city in the province of Baluchistan, which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest.