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Missile strikes kill 18 in Pakistan

Raids suggest Obama will maintain Bush policy

Pakistani tribesmen shout slogans against the military operations in tribal areas and drone attacks during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Pakistani tribesmen shout slogans against the military operations in tribal areas and drone attacks during a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
By Laura King Los Angeles Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – In the first such strikes since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, suspected U.S. missile barrages Friday killed at least 18 people in the lawless tribal region near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said.

The two raids suggested that the new U.S. administration intends to press ahead with attacks against Islamic militants in rural areas, even though the campaign has been politically costly to Pakistan’s Western-leaning civilian government.

Obama indicated during the campaign for the White House that he would continue to carry out strikes against “high-value” al-Qaida and Taliban targets on Pakistani soil, particularly if the Pakistani military were unable or unwilling to act. That declaration ruffled some feathers in Pakistan, where the U.S. raids are extremely unpopular.

Although Pakistani leaders have lodged formal diplomatic objections to the American airstrikes, the government is widely believed to have given tacit permission to U.S. forces to carry out such raids – as long as they do not involve sending ground forces into Pakistani territory.

Pakistani news reports cited security officials as saying that at least five of those killed in Friday’s strikes in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies – long known as a haven for al-Qaida and the Taliban – were militants. Dozens of such raids were carried out in the past six months by the Bush administration, killing several important al-Qaida-linked figures. But scores of Pakistani civilians, including women and children, also died, according to local officials.

The first of Friday’s attacks took place in the North Waziristan village of Zharki, with missiles striking at least two structures, according to security officials. A short time later, a strike was reported in South Waziristan. The American military in Afghanistan refused any comment on the raids, but U.S. forces are known to operate unmanned Predator drones from bases on the Afghan side of the border, together with newer Reaper aircraft.

Also Friday, new violence hit northwestern Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents have pushed beyond the tribal areas to menace civilians and government troops alike. Two Pakistani soldiers and three civilians were reported killed in bombings in the Swat Valley, a onetime tourist area 100 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

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