US missiles kill 16 Pakistani
Two suspected American missile strikes killed 16 alleged militants in a northwestern Pakistani tribal region yesterday, intelligence officials said, a sign the US is unwilling to stop using the tactic despite heightened tensions between the two countries over Nato's recent border incursions.
The missile strikes Saturday struck two separate houses in Datta Khel village in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing eight suspected militants at each site, three Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Though Pakistan quietly accepts the drone strikes, even reportedly providing intelligence for some, it made clear in recent days that it would not allow foreign troops or manned aircraft to pursue militants on its territory. After a Nato helicopter mistakenly killed three Pakistani border guards Thursday, Islamabad cut off a key coalition supply line on its soil.
The United States and Pakistan have never had an easy partnership, but despite heated feuds on everything from drone attacks to terror plots, the two governments have found a way to work together.
Now, Pakistan has played what some experts consider the ultimate trump card -- closing its main border crossing with Afghanistan to US-led forces who depend on the route for oil, ammunition and other war supplies.
Islamabad took action after accusing Nato helicopters of killing three Pakistani soldiers on their own territory, a stark reminder of Pakistan's sovereignty concerns as it cooperates with the United States. Gunmen torched more than two dozen Nato supply trucks Friday in southern Pakistan.
Former State Department official Marvin Weinbaum said Pakistan felt obliged to act tough at a time when the civilian government is under growing pressure, including from the powerful military, after its response to major floods.
"They have to show their trump card because it's for domestic political reasons, especially with a weak government. But it is serious and it points out our vulnerability," said Weinbaum, a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.
A prolonged closure of the border would mark "a fundamental change in our relationship with Pakistan. For the US, Pakistan can be reluctant to do this or reluctant to do that, and that is all ultimately tolerable as long as the supply routes remain largely open and protected," he added.
Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said Islamabad would reopen the Torkham crossing once it ensured convoys would be safe.