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U.S. kills 6 as it strikes farther into Pakistan

November 20, 2008|Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — The U.S. military apparently struck at Islamic militants outside Pakistan's lawless tribal belt for the first time Wednesday, firing a missile that killed six suspected insurgents.

The Pakistani government denounced the attack as another "great provocation" amid a series of U.S. military operations in the country that have angered its citizens.

The harsh words were a sharp contrast to reports Tuesday by U.S. and NATO officials of increased cooperation from Pakistan in the fight against militant groups. Tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are stationed in neighboring Afghanistan.

"It looks like the Americans are not listening, but this is such a great provocation that it will bring a strong response from the government of Pakistan that will dissuade them," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said of the missile strike. He declined to say what the response would be.

The government, which relies heavily on U.S. financial aid, has not gone beyond criticizing raids. Some experts question whether the leadership secretly condones the attacks while speaking out publicly against them, but the government denies that.

Many militants have died in the U.S. strikes, but Pakistani leaders have called for a halt, saying the raids also often kill civilians and undercut public support for Pakistan's own war against the extremists.

The United States has staged about 20 missile strikes and at least one commando assault in Pakistan since August. They are seen as a sign of Washington's frustration with its nuclear-armed ally's inability to curb militants blamed for rising attacks in Afghanistan.

Previous attacks had come in North and South Waziristan, semiautonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. But Wednesday's strike blew up a house in Indi Khel, a village in the Bannu district about 30 miles from the Afghan border and beyond the tribal region.

A senior military officer said "the Americans are very confident" an Al Qaeda member identified as Abdullah Azam Saudi was among the victims.

Earlier, two Pakistani intelligence officials reported that Central Asian militants were believed to be among the dead.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Villagers denied that any militants were among the dead, but they declined to discuss the identity of the victims.

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