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Taliban chief killed in suspected US airstrike

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-10-27

In the latest in a series of strikes on Pakistani soil that have raised tensions between Washington and Islamabad, the attack on a militant training camp near the Afghanistan border killed a Taliban commander and at least 15 others.

A Taliban commander and at least 15 others died in a suspected US missile strike on a militant training camp in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The attack came hours before officials and tribal leaders from both countries met in Islamabad to discuss how to counter the growing threat from Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists holed up along the porous frontier.

It was the latest in a series of strikes on Pakistani soil which have raised tensions between Washington and key ally Islamabad since a new government took power in March.

Officials said Haji Omar Khan, a lieutenant of veteran Afghan Taliban chieftain and former anti-Soviet fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani, died in the incident in the lawless South Waziristan area on Sunday.

"The death toll has gone up to 16 as six more bodies have been recovered from the site. Senior Taliban commander Haji Omar died in the strike," local administration official Mawaz Khan told AFP.

Two lower-level Taliban commanders from neighbouring North Waziristan tribal district, identified only as Waheedullah and Nasrullah, were among those killed, security officials and residents in that area said.

They had gone to meet Omar at his camp, along with five militants from North Waziristan who also died. The others killed were mainly guards of the commanders.

US and Afghan officials have pinpointed Pakistan's tribal belt as a "safe haven" where militants have regrouped and allied with local tribesmen after fleeing the 2001 US-led toppling of Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

Khan, a member of Pakistan's feared Wazir tribe, was active in attacks on US-led and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan, local residents and security officials said.

He was a cousin of late Taliban commander Nek Mohammed, who was killed in 2004 in one of the first apparent US missile strikes in the region.

"Omar was sending fighters into Afghanistan and commanded them in several outings. He did not have any political affiliations and was linked to Haqqani," a security official said on condition of anonymity.

Sunday's strike was the 12th such incident in the past 10 weeks, all of which have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan.

Many have targeted militants who, like Khan, were close to Haqqani, increasingly seen in Washington as one of the prime movers behind the escalating unrest in Afghanistan.

A religious school operated by Haqqani was targeted in another suspected US missile strike last Thursday, killing 11 people.

Haqqani was one of the most prominent Afghan commanders who fought the Soviet Red Army between 1978 and 1989. He became close to Mullah Omar, the leader of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The strike came as the New York Times reported that Washington is refraining from using its special forces on Pakistani territory following a September 3 raid that resulted in civilian casualties and vehement protests from Islamabad.

According to The New York Times, Pakistani national security adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani made an unannounced visit to Washington and voiced his country's anger in person to top White House officials.

Pakistan's upper house of parliament passed a unanimous resolution saying it "strongly condemned the missile attacks by US drones in Pakistani territory resulting in immense loss of life".

"The Senate calls upon the government to convey Pakistan's strong protest to the US" and NATO-led force in Afghanistan and seek assurances for "full respect of Pakistan's sovereignty," it said.

Such attacks are "most unfortunate" and constitute a "gross violation of our national sovereignty and territory," it went on.

Afghan and Pakistani officials held a "mini-jirga" to find a solution amid recent speculation about talks between the Afghan government and remnants of the Taliban.

The two-day meeting is a smaller follow-up to a traditional "jirga" or tribal meeting held between the two feuding neighbours in August 2007.

"Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are faced with terrorism and together they need to face the challenge," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at the start of the session.

Date created : 2008-10-27