A suspected U.S. missile strike on a Taliban commander's home in Pakistan killed six people, officials said Wednesday, a possible indication that Washington was moving ahead with cross-border raids despite protests from the new government.
The attack was the first since President Asif Ali Zardari warned that its territory cannot "be violated by our friends."
American forces recently ramped up cross-border operations against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the Pakistan's border zone with Afghanistan — a region considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Late Tuesday, missiles fired by a U.S. drone aircraft struck the Taliban commander's home near Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, said two intelligence officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Citing reports from their field agents, the officials said six people died, but did not identify any of the victims.
U.S. officials in Afghanistan or Washington rarely acknowledge the attacks.
Pakistan says the attacks often result in civilian casualties and serve to fan extremism. American officials complain that Pakistan was unwilling or unable to act against the militants.
Militants in the border region are blamed for rising attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and attacks within Pakistan, including the Sept. 20 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed more than 50 people.
Spy service ties to Taliban alleged
In Spain, a document marked confidential and bearing the official seal of Spain's Defense Ministry alleged that Pakistan's spy service helped arm Taliban insurgents in 2005 for assassination plots against Afghan government officials.
Chief Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the report was "baseless, unfounded and part of a malicious, well-orchestrated propaganda campaign to malign" the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
"ISI is the first line of defense of Pakistan and certain quarters are attempting to weaken our national intelligence system," Abbas said, without elaborating.
The document, which surfaced just after Pakistan's military chief chose a new head of the spy agency, also alleged that Pakistan may have provided training and intelligence to the Taliban in camps set up on Pakistani soil.
The report, which was obtained by Cadena Ser radio and posted on the station's Web site Wednesday, said the spy agency helped the Taliban procure explosives to use in attacks against vehicles.
Pakistan vehemently denies that members of the spy agency have aided the Taliban. In the 1990s, however, the ISI's agents helped build up the Taliban.
U.S. intelligence agencies suspect rogue elements of the spy agency may still be giving Taliban militants sensitive information to aid their insurgency in Afghanistan, even though officially Pakistan is a U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.
Some analysts say elements in the spy agency may want to retain the Taliban as potential assets against longtime rival India and believe Pakistan's strategic interests are best served if Afghanistan remains a weak state.
India and Afghanistan — and reportedly the U.S. — suspect the ISI of involvement in the July 7 bombing outside India's Embassy in Kabul, which killed more than 60 people. Pakistan denies it.
In London on Wednesday, British officials announced that the children of its diplomats in Pakistan have been ordered to leave the country. The Foreign Office said the decision was the result of a security review following the Sept. 20 Marriott hotel bombing.
Britain's embassy in Pakistan is one of its largest overseas missions. The Foreign Office said about 60 children of British-based embassy staff are being withdrawn. All are under the age of 8. Any other diplomats' dependents who wish to leave may also do so.
Top regional militant dead?
Meanwhile, a physician for the Taliban and a spokesman for the group denied reports that the movement's top leader in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, had fallen ill and died.
"I spoke to him today at 9 a.m. on the telephone and he told me that he is surprised over rumors about his death," physician Eisa Khan told The Associated Press. Khan said Mehsud had an unspecified kidney problem but gave no more details.
Mehsud's spokesman, Maulvi Umar, was cited on Geo television station as saying he was healthy.
Officials have accused Mehsud of being behind a wave of suicide attacks washing over Pakistan since the middle of last year, including the slaying of opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto in December.
American officials express frustration at Pakistan’s failure to kill or capture militant leaders whom they accuse of sending fighters and arms into Afghanistan, where foreign troop casualties are escalating.
In a move that could help answer those complaints, Pakistan’s army chief on Monday appointed a new head of the country’s premier intelligence agency.