ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A suspected U.S. missile strike killed two people in Pakistan near the Afghan border, officials and a witness said Tuesday, as two prominent U.S. senators visited Islamabad amid flaring tensions over the Mumbai attacks in India.
The Monday night strike in Tabi Tolkhel village, in the North Waziristan tribal region, appeared to be the latest in a surge of alleged U.S. missile attacks on militant targets in Pakistan’s northwest border region, long bedeviled by al-Qaida and Taliban extremists. More than 30 have been reported since August.
It also was the latest example of how militancy and the fight against it is engulfing this nuclear-armed Muslim nation from all sides.
India blames a Pakistan-based militant group for the attacks in Mumbai that killed more 160 people, and the U.S. has joined in the international chorus demanding that Pakistan crack down on violent extremists in its territory. The missile strikes have long indicated U.S. impatience with Pakistani efforts.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the next Foreign Relations Committee chairman, was in Pakistan on Tuesday. A number of U.S. officials have visited India and Pakistan since the attacks in India’s commercial capital last month.
Like Kerry, Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond also arrived Monday for meetings with top Pakistanis, U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said without eleborating. The latest suspected U.S. strike set a house on fire, said Ajab Khan, a village resident who went to the scene. He said he saw two bodies brought out and three wounded people taken away in a vehicle. Suspected Taliban militants surrounded the house, Khan said, a common occurrence after such strikes.
Three local intelligence officials confirmed the account, citing informants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Pakistan routinely protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, saying they inflame anti-American sentiment. U.S. officials rarely acknowledge or comment on individual strikes, many of which are said to originate from CIA-run unmanned drones. However, American leaders have previously said the strikes have helped kill some important militant leaders who use Pakistani territory as safe havens from which to plot attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
India has blamed a Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, for last month’s attacks in Mumbai. The U.S. has said Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has long been active in the Pakistani-Indian dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, has forged links with al-Qaeda.
Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, has long been suspected of maintaining ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was officially banned in 2002, and other militant groups, apparently in case it needs them as assets against India or Afghanistan.
While in India, Kerry urged Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government to bring the ISI under its full control to help stem terrorism in the region.
“It is imperative that the intelligence services of Pakistan not be able to make its own choices or operate outside of the standards that we have a right to expect,” Kerry said.
Pakistan has denied any official link to the Mumbai attacks. In an interview with Newsweek magazine published over the weekend, President Asif Ali Zardari insisted, “There is no supportive interaction with our intelligence (agencies) and the LeT.” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Monday that Pakistan will not let British investigators question suspects it detains over the Mumbai attacks, turning down a request from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Gilani said in parliament that he also told Brown that “if there were any proofs, these persons will be prosecuted under the law of Pakistan,” Gilani’s office said.
Pakistan has pledged full cooperation with the investigation, arrested at least two key suspects and clamped down on an Islamic charity the U.N. branded a front for terrorism. Brown said cooperation among investigators was vital to defeat transnational terrorism and that three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots investigated in Britain had links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
Brown also has asked India to let British police question the only gunman captured alive during the Mumbai attacks. India has made no public response.