Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Replacing the No Korean brick with a Pakistani one in the wall of worry

President Bush said Tuesday he is "pleased" that North Korea has agreed to return to six-party arms talks, a pledge that offers a glimmer of hope that the nuclear stalemate can be diplomatically resolved.

Pakistan furor over raid on madrassa
Pakistan's army spokesman said Tuesday the military used intelligence from U.S.-led coalition forces in a helicopter attack that left 80 people dead. Thousands of angry tribesmen decried both governments and threatened to launch a wave of suicide attacks against Pakistani troops.

Maj.-Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the chief army spokesman, told The Associated Press that American forces did not take part in Monday's attack on a religious school — or madrassa — that Pakistan called a front for an al-Qaida training camp.

But he said his government received intelligence as part of long-standing co-operation with the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to battle terrorists operating along the porous border between the countries.

"Intelligence sharing was definitely there, but to say they (the coalition) have carried out the operation, that is absolutely wrong," Sultan said. "One doesn't know ... what was the percentage of help."

In Kabul, the Afghan capital, Col. Tom Collins, a U.S. military spokesman, said it is common knowledge that the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan share intelligence as part of a three-way military agreement. But he said he had no information regarding the Monday raid in Pakistan.

Another U.S. military spokesman, Lt.-Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, said the U.S. did not participate in the attack or provide the Pakistanis with any forces, aircraft or equipment. He declined to say, however, if other American assistance was provided.

"Pakistan is a U.S. ally in the war on terror and the United States does routinely share intelligence with its allies. However, I cannot comment on any particular operation," he said.

As many as 20,000 people protested Tuesday in Khar, the main town in Pakistan's northwestern tribal Bajur district, claiming innocent students and teachers were killed in the attack. They chanted: ``Anyone who is a friend of America is a traitor," and called for the deaths of U.S. President George W. Bush and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

One of three people who survived the raid said Tuesday the school was not used by terrorists, and many children were among dead.

"There was not militant training in the madrassa," said Abu Bakar, 22. "We had come here to learn Allah's religion."

Bakar said 86 people were inside the seminary and just two other students — aged 15 and 16 — survived the raid. Many children, some as young as five, were among the dead, he said.

Among those killed Monday was Liaquat Hussain, a fugitive cleric and al-Zawahri associate who ran the targeted madrassa. The raid was launched after Hussain rejected government warnings to stop using the school as a terrorist training camp, the military said.

Another al-Zawahri lieutenant, Faqir Mohammed, left the madrassa 30 minutes before the strike, according to a Bajur intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan said its helicopters fired five missiles into the madrassa, flattening the building and killing 80 people inside.

The attack threatened Musharraf's efforts to persuade deeply conservative tribespeople to back his government's efforts against pro-Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, who enjoy strong support in many semi-autonomous regions in northern Pakistan.

It also sparked claims of U.S. collusion with Pakistan, with villagers saying fixed-wing drone aircraft were seen flying over the town in the days before the attack, according to the Dawn daily newspaper.

In January, a U.S. Predator drone fired a missile targeting Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman-al-Zawahri in Damadola, near Chingai, site of Monday's attack. That strike missed al-Zawahri, but killed several other Al Qaeda members as well as civilians, and sparked massive anti-U.S. protests across Pakistan.


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