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by Ashfaq Yusufzai

Outrage In Pakistan Over CIA Airstrike That Killed 18

(IPS) PESHAWAR -- Tears well up in Jamalzada's eyes when he looks at the bandaged stumps where his legs used to be until a week ago when doctors, at the Aman Hospital in this frontier town, finally decided on amputation.

"I was playing with my friends in school when the bombs fell," said Jamalzada, 10, describing the airstrike carried out by United States warplanes on Wana district two months ago, that maimed him and killed his two brothers.

Wana is headquarters of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that extends 27,220 square kilometers along the Afghanistan border and has been the target of U.S. missile attacks for weeks. Believed to be hiding amidst FATA's 6 million people are al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri and a band of their armed followers, flushed out from Afghanistan along with the country's former Taliban rulers by the U.S. and its allies.

While al Qaeda's top leaders remain free, the real victims of the aerial attacks and coordinated action by the Pakistan army in FATA are its impoverished residents, who have begun to flee for the safety of Peshawar and other Pakistani towns and cities. Hundreds of families have moved out, abandoning their homes in Chashma Kali, Qutabkhel, Serbandki, Derpakhel, Miramshah, Eisokhel, Emarki, Mosaki, Eidak, Milagan and Khushali Toorikhel.

FATA consists of the seven "agencies" of Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, South and North Waziristan, populated by Pashtun tribes sympathetic to the Taliban.

Bajaur was hit by U.S. aerial attacks on Jan. 13, killing 18 civilians in the village of Damadola and, according to intelligence agencies, several top al Qaeda members.

The strike on the Bajaur agency sparked a row between Pakistan and the U.S. and is expected to come up at meetings in Washington this week between Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and U.S. leaders, including President Bush.

"Jamalzada spends the nights crying because he is still in pain. I bandage the stumps everyday and this is painful for both him and me," said his mother, tired from caring for her surviving son ceaselessly for months.

"I was away in Karachi, but I rushed back when I heard that my sons had been killed in an airstrike and that Jamalzada had been seriously wounded," said Sahibzada, the distraught father. "Why are they dropping bombs on children?"

Sahibzada also lost two of his brothers in the aerial raid on Wana.

Pakistan and U.S. troops are said to have drawn up a "hammer-and-anvil" strategy against al Qaeda in the FATA, but appear to be making little headway other than chalking up "collateral damage" among the civilian population.

At any rate, the "war on terror" has brought ordinary life in FATA to a standstill, as residents flee the agencies for safety. Two years after the war began, whatever little infrastructure existed in these parts, such as schools and medical facilities, have crumbled away.

"Doctors, paramedics and nurses are afraid of being posted in South and North Waziristan Agencies (where the Pakistan army has its bases and where the resistance has been fiercest) because no one can be assured safety," said a doctor, who survived being shot in the chest by militants.

FATA is out of bounds for foreign journalists, while local media persons are under constant threat from militants and security forces. Six months ago, two journalists, Amir Nawab Wazir and Allah Noor Wazir, were shot dead in Wana soon after attending a meeting addressed by Baitullah Mehsud, a local Taliban leader.

Mehsud himself was later killed by the army. "Security forces don't distinguish between combatants and non-combatants," said a man who recently moved to Peshawar from FATA.

Recently, political agent Zaheer-ul-Islam, while addressing a tribal jirga (council) warned that the army will "react indiscriminately to stop miscreant attacks on forces in the troubled region."

After receiving strong warnings from the political and military authorities, tribesmen have started joint patrolling to protect security forces and government installations from militants.

"Taliban have assured us that they are not attacking security forces," a tribesman said, but security forces are still coming under attack in FATA, said officials dealing with the area.

About 100 pro-government elders and their relatives have been killed in South Waziristan over the last year. The death toll on the army side surpassed 100 this month, when the military began its operation against foreign and tribal militants in South Waziristan.

Of late, the militants, described by the army as a combination of al Qaeda, the Taliban and local recruits from among young, unemployed men incensed by the army raids, have intensified attacks on troops.

The general perception is that there is little trust between the tribals and Pakistani authorities.

Information gathered from various official sources suggests that at least 120 soldiers and officers have been killed in landmine explosions and hit-and-run attacks by militants, especially in areas adjacent to the Afghan border.

The government claims that about 150 militants, mostly foreigners, have been killed in the operations, but the number of casualties suffered by security forces appears to be even higher.

Islamabad has deployed about 70,000 regular troops and paramilitary forces in South Waziristan which are backed by air force jets and helicopter gunships.

"But they (militants) are certainly not giving up resistance," said an official who has spent more than a year in the embattled FATA.

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Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

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