Suspected U.S. strike kills 20 in Pakistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

Militants on Saturday buried the bodies of Arab comrades who were among at least 20 people killed when suspected U.S. missiles hit a house near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said.

The United States has launched a flurry of strikes in recent weeks against suspected al-Qaida and Taliban targets in northwestern Pakistan, straining ties between the two anti-terror allies.

Pakistan has been unable or unwilling to eliminate militant sanctuaries blamed for rising violence on both sides of the border. The frontier region is believed to be a possible hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Stronghold of veteran Taliban commander
The latest strike reportedly took place Friday in Mohammadkhel, a village in the North Waziristan region. The area is a stronghold of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran Taliban commander whom U.S. generals count among their most dangerous foes.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials, citing reports from field agents and informants, said 14 Taliban militants and eight Arabs died in the attack about 28 miles west of Miran Shah, the region's main town.

The Taliban included a Haqqani commander who had invited the others to dinner, they said. The commander, his father and two young sons were among the dead Taliban, the officials said.

Six of the Arabs were buried in the village Saturday morning, while militants took the other two bodies to an undisclosed location, they said.

The officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told The Associated Press they had no information indicating that a senior militant leader was killed.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said initial reports indicated that 20 or more people were killed. He said there was speculation that many were foreign militants but cautioned that the army was still awaiting a detailed report.

"One has to establish how many foreigners, or whether they were militants, how many civilians," Abbas said.

The intelligence officials said there was a second missile strike Friday in the nearby village of Khata Kaly, but they had no reports of casualties.

Lt. Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he had "no information to give" about the reported attacks. He did not deny U.S. involvement.

Recent cross-border operations
The strike in Mohammadkhel appeared to be the deadliest of 11 reported cross-border operations by U.S.-led forces since Aug. 20.

U.S. officials have acknowledged some of the strikes. However, they have provided few details, and casualty reports from the dangerous and remote border region are nearly impossible to verify.

Pakistan's military and civilian leaders have complained that the attacks violate the country's sovereignty, kill civilians and anger the local population, making it harder to crack down on the militants.

Surge of attacks in Afghanistan
Militants on the Pakistan side of the border are blamed for a surge in attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, where violence is running at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.

Extremists based in the border region are also blamed for rising attacks within Pakistan, including the massive Sept. 20 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed more than 50 people.

The attack prompted the United Nations and the British Embassy this past week to order the children of their foreign staff to leave the city.

The Marriott announced Saturday that its laundry and catering services had reopened. The owner of the hotel, a popular hangout for Pakistan's elite and its expatriate community, plans to reopen it within three or four months.