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Central & South Asia
Toll rises in Pakistan drone attack
Twenty-one people killed in attack thought to target Taliban in North Waziristan.
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2009 10:48 GMT
Civilian casualties in alleged US drone attacks have caused anger among Pakistanis [EPA]

The death toll from a suspected US air raid in Pakistan has risen after nine more bodies were pulled from the rubble, officials have said.

Three Pakistani intelligence officers said on Saturday that 21 people had been killed in the attack in the village of Dande Darpa Khel in North Waziristan a day earlier.

A local tribal elder said six children were among the dead.

The attack on a housing compound in the village was thought to have been aimed at Siraj Haqqani, a Taliban commander with suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

It was unclear whether he was among the dead.

None of the dead were identified, but the officials said local informants told them all those in the compound were Afghans.

Taliban 'mastermind'

Dande Darpa Khel is the Pakistani stronghold of Haqqani, who is blamed for masterminding ambushes on US troops in Afghanistan.

He has a large Islamic religious school in the village that was hit by a suspected US missile in October 2008, killing about 20 people.

Siraj is the son of senior Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was supported by the US and Pakistan when he fought in the 1980s against Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan.

Now, US commanders count him as a dangerous foe.

Father and son are alleged to have close connections to al-Qaeda and to have helped funnel foreign fighters into Afghanistan to fight Nato troops.

The Haqqanis have also been linked to an attempt to kill Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and to a suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul last year.  

Raids increase

Friday's raid was the third in three weeks by what are believed to be CIA-operated pilotless aircraft.

Pakistani and US officials believe Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief, was killed in a similar strike in neighbouring South Waziristan on August 5.

The US has carried out about 52 drone air raids since the beginning of last year.

The death toll stands at about 480 people, including many foreign fighters, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials
and residents.

US officials rarely acknowledge the air strikes but a senior legislator, Senator Dianne Feinstein, told a US Senate hearing in February that the drones were being operated and flown from an air base inside Pakistan.

Pakistan denied the claim, saying no permission had ever been issued for the
strikes.

Pakistan officially protests drone assaults as a violation of its sovereignty.

The government also worries that the raids could undermine efforts to deal with the Taliban because the civilian casualties they cause inflame public anger and bolster support for the fighters.

Source:
Agencies
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