ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A U.S. missile strike killed five militants in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, a Pakistani official said.Another official said the attack on a container loaded with ammunition and explosives was the result of better U.S.-Pakistani intelligence sharing and both countries had worked together on the attack.
The United States, frustrated by a growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, has stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistan with six missile strikes and a helicopter-borne ground assault this month.
U.S. officials say Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters use ethnic Pashtun tribal regions on the Pakistani side of the border as a springboard for attacks into Afghanistan.
But the U.S. attacks have infuriated many in Pakistan, which is also battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants, and the army has vowed to stand up to aggression across the border.
The latest U.S. missile strike by a pilotless drone came at dusk over Baghar village in the South Wazirstan region. The drone fired four missiles at a tented camp.
Three of the dead were Arabs, according to a Pakistani intelligence officer who declined to be identified.
A new government in nuclear-armed Pakistan has promised support for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy even though the campaign is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.
RESPECT FOR SOVEREIGNTY
Hours before the missile strike, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, assured army commander General Ashfaq Kayani and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of U.S. support.
“Admiral Mullen reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination,” the U.S. embassy said.
Mullen said earlier this month he was not convinced Western forces were winning in Afghanistan and he was “looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy” that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The tension with the United States compounded worry on Pakistan’s financial markets.
Dealers said the rupee weakened to a new low of 77.20/30, partly because of the row with the United States, a major source of financial help for Pakistan as it struggles with economic problems, but it firmed slightly before the close.
Stocks also ended down in the lowest ever trading volume with tension with the United States adding to worry about a global financial crisis and a weak domestic economy.
U.S. President George W. Bush approved a U.S. commando assault in South Waziristan on September 3 without Islamabad’s permission as part of a presidential order on covert operations, officials and sources familiar with the matter said.
But officials and analysts in Washington said the Bush administration was unlikely to use commando raids as a common tactic against militant havens in Pakistan because of the high-stake risks to U.S. policy in the region.
SURGE IN VIOLENCE
Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, said on Tuesday he did not believe the United States would carry out more raids.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Kabul he was encouraged by Pakistani military operations in border areas but he did not comment on the U.S. raids.
“It is my hope that we can work closely with the Pakistanis to prevent this from being a safe haven that threatens both Afghanistan and a democratic Pakistan,” Gates said.
The rise in violence in Afghanistan was directly related to havens in the border areas, Gates said, while adding that the U.S. military needed to do more to prevent the killing of Afghan civilians caught up in military operations.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year with nearly 3,000 people killed as a result of the conflict. It has also been the bloodiest summer for foreign troops since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed four soldiers from a U.S.-led coalition force and an Afghan national in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said.
Meanwhile, in the Pakistani region of Bajaur, opposite the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, Pakistan air force jets pounded militant positions killing 19 of them, a military spokesman.
The spokesman said 150 militants had been killed in Bajaur since last week. Pakistani troops are also fighting militants in the Swat Valley, northwest of the capital, Islamabad.