Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Militant: U.S. Missile Strikes "Incredible and Accurate"

A Taliban commander in northwest Pakistan tells CBS News a wave of recent U.S. air strikes have had an "incredible and accurate" impact on al Qaeda militants in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Relentless waves of air strikes, suspected to have been carried out by unmanned U.S. drones, have pounded the region in the past three weeks, leaving dozens of alleged militants killed. They have been focused North Waziristan, where al Qaeda leaders are known to be hiding and planning attacks on the West and Western troops in Afghanistan.

"Within 72 hours, four to five drone attacks in tribal areas have interrupted badly al Qaeda and Pakistani militants," the Pakistani Taliban commander told CBS News' Sami Yousafzai in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Taliban commander, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified by name, said the number of al Qaeda militants in the region was dwindling as a result of the increasing pressure.

While it may seem counter-intuitive for a Taliban commander to reveal apparent advances by the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus, it is important to note that the Islamic fighters in the region are divided into myriad tribal groups. Yousafzai's source is a commander in a group not friendly with the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud -- a prime target of many American missiles -- or his al Qaeda allies. Foreign fighters, many from Uzbekistan, are often recruited into the ranks of al Qaeda and allied with Mehsud's faction, but are viewed by many locals in the border region as outsiders and distrusted.

The Taliban commander also said, however, that the missile strikes -- the most recent of which slammed into a house early Monday in North Waziristan, killing 10 alleged militants -- are taking an increasing toll on the Taliban, in addition to al Qaeda operatives in the area.

"That is a headache and a big worry for the Taliban," he told Yousafzai.

Regardless of which militants feel the sting of U.S. missiles more acutely, the strikes represent hopeful news for the U.S.-led war against the Islamic radicals in the region where the Sept. 11 terror attacks were planned. Both the Taliban and al Qaeda launch periodic attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, while al Qaeda is also the sworn enemy of both nations' U.S.-backed governments and anyone found to be working with them.

Both Pakistani intelligence sources, and the Taliban commander who spoke to CBS on Tuesday, say better cooperation with Pakistanis on the ground is likely behind the wave of successful strikes.

The commander told Yousafzai locals seem to have ramped-up their "spying" on militants in the area, and are increasingly grassing on even the more native Taliban fighters who have long enjoyed some degree of support in the region.

He said the Taliban's "brutal punishment and beheading of spies" was apparently failing to halt the villagers' cooperation with government forces, who have increased their tip-offs to American intelligence operatives.

The commander went so far as to say the reprisal attacks could be "widening and complicating" the Taliban's fight in Waziristan.

A Pakistani intelligence official said in June that Pakistan had stepped up its cooperation with the U.S. since December 2009, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari. In the briefing, the intel official said the boosted cooperation was yielding dividends in the form of praise from Western allies, "because everyone is happier with Pakistan."

Intelligence sources tell Bokhari that the strikes over the past couple days have killed important "field commanders," though nobody has mentioned any of the most-wanted figures believed to be hiding out in the mountainous region.



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