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US eyes militants in Pakistan madrassa

world Updated: Dec 18, 2010 02:21 IST

The CIA has launched more than 100 drone strikes in Pakistan so far this year, but one seemingly obvious target remains conspicuously unscathed.

A religious school near the heart of the country's tribal areas has for years served as an operational hub for the most lethal adversary of US forces in Afghanistan, the so-called Haqqani network, according to US officials.

Still, the CIA has refrained from hitting the site, US officials said, out of concern that targeting a religious compound might trigger a violent backlash. The US military cannot attack a site inside Pakistan. And US officials said the Pakistani military has failed to clear militants from the school, or madrassa, even though it maintains a fort less than two miles away.

The madrassa on the edge of Miram Shah has emerged as a symbol of the constraints on the US effort in Afghanistan, where the enemy - and the prospects for a clear victory - often seem to lie beyond US forces' grasp.

Pakistan officials insist they have raided the madrassa several times and found no evidence of militant activity. US officials dispute that assertion.

"It's a focal point for Haqqani operations," said a US intelligence official. Beyond the madrassa's use for recruitment, training and planning, the official said, "there is a strong likelihood that senior Haqqani leaders meet there on a regular basis."

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