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Two suspected U.S. missile attacks kill 45 in Pakistan

ISHTIAQ MAHSUD | 7/8/2009, 1:31 p.m.

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- Suspected U.S. drones launched two missile attacks on Taliban targets in the South Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday, killing at least 45 militants in the latest in a barrage of strikes close to the Afghan border, intelligence officials said.

The army said the top Taliban commander in another area of the northwest, the scenic Swat Valley, was wounded in a Pakistani airstrike. It gave no more details.

South Waziristan lies close to the Afghan border and is the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
Pakistan's military is also bombing and firing mortars at insurgent targets in the region, saying it is chipping away at Mehsud's resistance before launching a ground offensive there to eliminate him. Mehsud is blamed for many of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in nuclear-armed Pakistan in recent years.

The first strike took place before dawn. A suspected U.S. drone fired six missiles at a mountaintop training camp in the Karwan Manza area of South Waziristan, killing 10 militants, the intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. The nationalities and the identities of the slain men were not immediately known.

Hours later, 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the east, missiles believed fired from a U.S. drone hit four vehicles carrying Taliban militants, killing at least 35, including a key Taliban commander, one intelligence official said. He did not disclose the commander's identity.

Other intelligence officials put the death toll as high as 50.

Independent verification of the casualties and the target was not possible because the region is remote, dangerous and largely inaccessible to journalists. U.S. officials do not publicly comment on the strikes.

The latest strike brings to six the number of suspected American missile attacks in South Waziristan in just over two weeks, an uptick that suggests Washington is also trying to kill or weaken Mehsud and his followers in the run-up to the Pakistani campaign.

Despite the apparent convergence of interests, Pakistan's army insists it is not coordinating with the U.S. It says the American missile attacks are hurting its attempts to kill or capture Mehsud because they alienate local tribesman they are trying to enlist in their campaign against him.

The United States is believed to have launched more than 40 missile strikes against targets in the border area since last August that have killed several hundred people, according to a count by The Associated Press based on figures given by intelligence officials.

The Pakistani government routinely protests the strikes as violation of the country's sovereignty and has publicly asked the United States to give them the technology to launch their own attacks. But many analysts suspect the government - which has received billions of dollars a year from the United States in aid since 2001 - secretly cooperates with them.

Pakistan launched the Swat Valley offensive more than two months ago after militants led by Maulana Fazlullah violated the terms of a peace deal. It claims to have nearly cleared the valley of militants, killing more than 1,500.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Wednesday that according to "credible information" Fazlullah was wounded in a recent airstrike. Fazlullah's capture or killing would be a major symbolic victory for the army and give a psychological boost to local residents fearful that the Taliban could re-emerge in Swat.

Abbas gave no more information about the circumstances involving Fazlullah's wounding. A militant spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.


Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.