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Suspected US missile strike kills five in NW Pakistan: officials

A suspected US missile strike killed five people in Pakistan's northwest tribal belt on Thursday, where the military is poised to attack a feared Taliban commander, officials said.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2009 14:35 IST

A suspected US missile strike killed five people in Pakistan's northwest tribal belt on Thursday, where the military is poised to attack a feared Taliban commander, officials said.

The attack hit 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the main town of Wana in South Waziristan, where Washington says Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels who fled after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan are hiding, plotting attacks on the West.

"Five people were killed in the attack," said a local intelligence official who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"I cannot say whether there was any important commander among those killed, but we have reports that five militants were killed in the attack."

A senior tribal administrative official based in the northwest's main city Peshawar said the target appeared to be a training camp run by a local Taliban commander named Wali, also known as Malang.

"According to my information, more than one drone fired four missiles at a camp of Taliban commander Malang," the official said.

The US military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, but its armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the unmanned drones in the region.

Pakistan's military said Tuesday that the government had ordered an offensive into the tribal belt along the Afghan border to attack Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and his network.

Targeted strikes have been reported in South Waziristan and other tribal regions, although a full-fledged offensive does not appear to have begun.

Pakistani troops are already fighting a more than seven-week battle to dislodge Taliban insurgents from three other northwest districts, and claim to have almost completed their mission in the scenic Swat valley.

But analysts have said the tribal areas present a far greater challenge, with Mehsud's fighters -- believed to number up to 20,000 -- entrenched in the hostile mountain terrain and easily able to slip into hideouts in Afghanistan.

A senior US defence official said last week that any operation into South Waziristan would work best with "pressure on both sides of the border."

About 90,000 foreign troops -- most of them from the United States -- are currently deployed in Afghanistan to battle an insurgency by the resurgent Taliban, which was ousted from government by the 2001 US-led invasion.

The United States administration, which has put Pakistan at the heart of its strategy to battle Al-Qaeda, has welcomed the Swat offensive, but the drone attacks are a source of tension between Washington and Islamabad.

Pakistan publicly opposes the strikes, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace. Since August 2008, more than 40 such strikes have killed nearly 400 people.