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US aid cutoff followed by drone strike in Pakistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan very close to the Afghan border Monday, killing 12 alleged militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The attack came a day after the Obama administration announced it was suspending $800 million in military aid to Pakistan because of strained ties. Monday's strike indicates the White House has no intention of stopping a program that has increasingly caused tension between the two countries.

Elsewhere in Pakistan's northwest, a suicide bomber blew himself up as he was being searched at a political rally, killing seven people, including a 9-month-old girl, officials said.

The house that was hit in the drone strike was located in Gorvak village in the North Waziristan tribal area, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Militants often pass through the village on their way to Afghanistan.

Pakistan's reluctance to target Afghan militants based in North Waziristan who stage cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan has been one of the main sources of tension with the U.S.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Pakistan as a "valuable ally" in the fight against terrorism, but acknowledged the relationship "is not always easy."

She said the decision to hold back some aid "does not signal a shift in policy, but underscores the fact that our partnership depends on cooperation."

Troops 'stretched too thin'
Pakistan says its troops are stretched too thin by operations in other parts of the country, but many analysts believe the government is hesitant to cross militants with whom it has historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

A Pakistani army soldier fires an artillery shell toward a target at a forward base during a military operation against militants in Pakistan's Khurram tribal region, Saturday, July 9, 2011. "A military operation in Kurram tribal region has been launched to clear the area of terrorists involved in all kinds of terrorist activities, including kidnapping and killing of locals, suicide attacks and blocking the road connecting Lower with upper Kurram," Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair)Mohammad Zubair / AP

In response, the Obama administration has dramatically increased drone strikes in North Waziristan over the past couple of years. The U.S. refuses to publicly acknowledge the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed senior Taliban and al-Qaida officials.

Pakistan is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past, even though officials often criticize them publicly as a violation of the country's sovereignty. But that support has become less certain in recent months, especially following the covert U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a Pakistani garrison town not far from Islamabad.

The raid humiliated the Pakistani military, which was not told about it beforehand. U.S. officials said they kept Pakistan in the dark because they were worried that someone would tip off bin Laden.

Rocky relationship
The relationship between the two countries has spiraled down since then, and President Barack Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, said Sunday that the U.S. was suspending more than one-third — or $800 million — of its military aid to Pakistan until the two countries can patch up their relationship.

The political rally that was hit by a suicide bomber Monday was organized by Ameer Muqam, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, but he had not yet arrived when the blast went off.

"Such attacks are deplorable, but they cannot deter us from public service," Muqam said after the blast.

The bomber detonated his explosives as he was being searched at the entrance of the rally, said Ghulam Hussain, the police chief in Batgram district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the attack occurred.

Junaid Raza, 13, said he saw police in a brawl with the bomber, who was hurling threats at the officers. The bomber freed himself from the police and detonated himself while running toward the rally, the witness said.

"It terrorized me," he told The Associated Press. "I saw smoke everywhere. I ran away."

About 6,000 people were at the rally at the time of the attack, said Hussain, the police chief.

Police found the remains of the suicide attacker, including a severed hand that was carrying a pistol, Hussain added.

The dead included a 9-month-old girl who was being carried by her mother when the blast went off, said Hussain. The mother was wounded and died later in a hospital, he said. The seven dead also included two police officials and two other men, said Mahboobur Rehman, the top official at Batgram hospital. Twenty-six people were wounded, he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have often targeted Pakistani officials and security forces in their quest to topple the U.S.-allied government in Pakistan.


Associated Press Writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Aqeel Ahmad in Batgram contributed to this report.