Pakistan drone strike brings end of hiatus

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The Independent Online

An attack by a US drone aircraft killed at least seven people yesterday in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, in the first such event since a diplomatic feud erupted over the shooting of two Pakistanis by an American embassy employee.

Many analysts believe Washington halted the drone attacks targeting Taliban and al-Qa'eda militants to avoid further inflaming anti-American fury in Pakistan. US officials are involved in intense diplomatic manoeuvring to secure the release of Raymond Davis, a US citizen imprisoned after shooting two men in Lahore last month. Mr Davis says he acted in self-defence during an attempted robbery.

The drone yesterday fired at least four missiles, hitting a suspected militant training centre in Azam Warsak, just west of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal agency, intelligence officials said. "According to initial reports there were foreigners among the dead," one of the officials said. A second official said the foreign nationals killed included three people from Turkmenistan and two Arab nationals.

It is the first time since January 23 that intelligence officials have reported a US drone strike, marking a resumption of a campaign that has become the centrepiece of efforts to halt militants launching attacks on its soldiers in Afghanistan.

Washington, which provides Pakistan with billions of dollars a year in military and civilian aid, is leaning hard on the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to release Mr Davis on grounds the US national is shielded by diplomatic immunity.

Mr Davis, whose precise connection to the US Government has not been specified, is in jail in Lahore after a hearing on his immunity was delayed until March 14.

Although many analysts attribute the hiatus in drone strikes to the diplomatic row over Mr Davis, others speculate that the pause was due to poor weather or an inability to find reliable targets.