Drone strike, militant attacks kill 17 in Pakistan


Islamabad : A suspected US missile strike killed 12 Taliban militants Wednesday in Pakistan’s restive tribal region, while suspected terrorists ambushed a police patrol, killing five police personnel in the northwest, officials said.

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Two missiles believed to have been fired by a US drone hit a compound in Khadezai village of the Orakzai Agency, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal districts known to serve as sanctuaries for Al Qaeda and Taliban rebels.

“Twelve militants were confirmed dead but the toll could be even higher,” an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. At least a dozen more people were also wounded in the drone attack, which was the first one in Orakzai.

Local administrators confirmed the strike, but gave no details.

The compound was allegedly being used as a training centre and also housed quarters for “foreigners,” a term used by Pakistani officials to describe militants of Arab and Central Asian origin.

The identities of those killed in the strike were not immediately known, as local insurgents cordoned off the area following the missile attack.

Orakzai, which does not share a border with Afghanistan, is the stronghold of a senior aide of rebel commander Baitullah Mehsud, who confirmed Wednesday that his fighters stormed a police training school in the eastern city of Lahore the earlier day, killing seven recruits and one civilian.

Mehsud told reporters over phone from an undisclosed location that the Lahore assault and two other recent attacks were carried out by his group in revenge for US drone strikes.

Nearly three dozen US airstrikes have targeted suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan’s tribal region since August 2008, killing more than 300 people, including a number of lower-tier Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Dozens of non-combatants have also been killed in the strikes.

Pakistan has opposed the attacks, calling them counter-productive because they fuel anti-US sentiments and increasing public support for militants in the tribal districts.

Separately, suspected militants ambushed a police patrol, leaving five policemen, including two officers, dead in Dir district of the neighbouring North Western Frontier Province.

“The attackers first targeted the police van with rocket-propelled grenades and then fired at it with assault rifles,” Ghulam Mohammad, a provncial official, said over phone. “They took with them the weapons of dead policemen,” he added.

Dir borders Swat district which has been gripped by militant violence since late 2007 when a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah waged war on security forces for the enforcement of Taliban rule in the region, once a popular tourist destination.

A relative calm is being observed after the government signed a peace deal with the militants though occasional incidents of violence continue.