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Missile strikes inside Pakistan kill 25 suspected insurgents

The missiles, presumably fired by U.S. drones, destroy three trucks believed to be carrying fighters and weapons to Afghanistan.

December 28, 2010|By Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King

Reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Kabul, — Missiles presumably fired by U.S. drones on Monday incinerated three trucks thought to be ferrying fighters and weapons from Pakistan's tribal borderlands to Afghanistan. The strikes killed 25 suspected militants and injured four, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

A campaign of American drone strikes against militants in the tribal areas has dramatically accelerated this year, targeting members of groups including the Taliban, an offshoot organization known as the Haqqani network, and Al Qaeda.

Insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan are considered a tremendous complicating factor for Western forces in Afghanistan. NATO ground troops are not allowed to operate in Pakistan, although a few incursions have taken place. Drones have become a key means of hunting militants who attack Western soldiers, then take shelter on the Pakistani side of the frontier.

But the drone strikes are politically unpopular in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government routinely denies having given U.S. forces the green light to carry them out.

The first of the strikes took place at midmorning in the Mir Ali district of the North Waziristan tribal area, the officials said. Two trucks were hit as they drove along a dirt track after leaving a compound in the village of Sher Tala, a known insurgent stronghold.

Masked militants then cordoned off the scene, preventing anyone from getting close while they carried away the dead and injured, villagers said.

Hours later, a separate strike targeted another vehicle in the village of Machikhel, also in Mir Ali district. That attack killed four people, officials said.

Violence also broke out on the Afghan side of the border. An explosion tore through a busy intersection in the southern city of Kandahar. At least two people were killed in the blast, which occurred near a major bank branch and a police compound, and more than a dozen were injured.

In the late summer and early fall, NATO forces managed to clear Taliban fighters from several key districts surrounding Kandahar, part of a push to restore government authority in the main city in southern Afghanistan. But Western officials acknowledged that the gains were fragile, and could be reversed if insurgents pour back into the area in the spring.

Also Monday, the Western military reported the death in southern Afghanistan of a service member, whose nationality was not immediately disclosed. This year has been the most lethal of the 9-year-old war for both U.S. troops and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force as a whole. Americans make up about two-thirds of the 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan.

laura.king@latimes.com

Ali is a special correspondent.

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