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More Drone Attacks for Pakistan Despite Its Claims They Fule Extremism

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6 Apr 09 | NYT and AFP

The United States intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Pakistan told US envoys Tuesday that drone attacks fuelled extremism in the nuclear-armed nation and called for mutual trust to allow the implementation of a sweeping new strategy.

Despite threats of retaliation from Pakistani militants, senior administration officials said Monday that the United States intended to step up its use of drones to strike militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas and might extend them to a different sanctuary deeper inside the country.

On Sunday, a senior Taliban leader vowed to unleash two suicide attacks a week like one on Saturday in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, unless the Central Intelligence Agency stopped firing missiles at militants. Pakistani officials have expressed concerns that the missile strikes from remotely piloted aircraft fuel more violence in the country, and some American officials say they are also concerned about some aspects of the drone strikes.

Influential American lawmakers have voiced support for the administration’s position.

Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, acknowledged last week that “the price is very heavy” when missile strikes mistakenly kill civilians, but he said the strikes were “an extremely effective tool.”

Pakistan told US envoys Tuesday that drone attacks fuelled extremism in the nuclear-armed nation and called for mutual trust to allow the implementation of a sweeping new strategy against militants.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said drone attacks — to which Pakistan is publicly opposed — work to the advantage of the extremists and flagged up “red lines” in Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington.

“We did talk about drones and let me be very frank. There’s a gap. There’s a gap between us and them,” Qureshi told the news conference.

Pakistan is deeply opposed to the drone attacks, around 37 of which have killed over 360 people since August 2008, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace.

“My view is that they are working to the advantage of the extremists. We agree to disagree on this. We will take it up when we meet again in Washington,” Qureshi added, referring to talks scheduled for May 6-7.

“You will be complicating and compounding anti-Americanism here,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst in Islamabad. “How can you be an ally and at the same time be targeted?”

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, it can also be hard to evaluate tips about the locations of Taliban or Qaeda leaders if there are no troops nearby to help check them out.

While the Air Force operates its drones from military bases in the United States, the C.I.A. controls its fleet of Predators and Reapers from its headquarters in Langley, Va.

The final preparations for strikes in Pakistan take place in a crowded room lined with video screens, where C.I.A. officers work at phone banks and National Security Agency personnel monitor electronic chatter, according to former C.I.A. officials.

The intelligence officers watch scratchy video captured by the drones, which always fly in pairs above potential targets.

In a statement issued after talks with the envoys late Monday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the gravity of the threat, saying that the country was “fighting a battle for its own survival”.

Pakistan has paid dearly for its alliance with the US in its “war on terror.” Militant attacks have killed more than 1,700 people since July 2007.

Pakistan rejects criticism that it does not do enough to counter Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants holed up on the Afghan border, pointing to the deaths of more than 1,500 troops at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2002.

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Written by Editors

7 April 2009 at 2:32 pm

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