Pakistan militants shoot down drone: officials

AFP/HO/File – A US Air Force drone carries a missile. Taliban militants have shot down a suspected drone aircraft in …

AFP,  March 7, 2009

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) – Taliban militants on Saturday shot down a suspected drone aircraft in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

Residents and a local police official said two drones were flying low over a village in the South Waziristan tribal district when one of them was hit by militant fire.

“We heard the firing by Taliban and then a drone fell down,” tribal police official Israr Khan told AFP.

Another security official said the drone crashed in a forest near a Pakistani border post.

“Apparently a drone has crashed in the nearby forest, we are searching for its wreckage,” a security official told AFP.

The US military — which has been suspected of carrying out attacks by unmanned aircraft in the region — denied it had lost a drone on Saturday.

Pakistan‘s chief military spokesman said the reports of a drone crash were being investigated.

“We have come to know that something has happened there, but we do not have any confirmation,” Major General Athar Abbas told AFP in Islamabad.

“We are further investigating and trying to find out.”

In Washington, Major Marie Boughen, a spokeswoman for US Central Command (Centcom), said: “As far as Centcom goes, all of our drones have been accounted for. So it’s not ours, if there is one that was shot down.”

Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, said he had heard of no such reports, adding that “the Taliban make specious claims all the time.”

More than two dozen missile strikes have been carried out since August 2008, killing more than 200 people, most of them militants.

In January a US drone attack in South Waziristan killed the head of Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan, Kenyan national Usama al-Kini, and his lieutenant, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan.

Another US drone attack in November killed Rashid Rauf, the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of a 2006 transatlantic airplane bombing plot, as well as an Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative, security officials have said.

The strikes, which are not usually confirmed by the US military, have continued since US President Barack Obama took office on January 20. Since then, Pakistani territory has been struck at least four times by suspected US missile strikes.

One strike, on February 16, destroyed an Afghan Taliban camp and killed 26 in Pakistan’s northwest tribal area of Kurram.

In another, at least eight militants were killed on March 1, in a missile strike which destroyed a Taliban hide-out in South Waziristan.

While the Pakistani government has pledged support for the US fight against terrorist threats, the strikes have fuelled anti-American sentiments in Pakistan and particularly in the tribal belt, where Washington says Al-Qaeda and Taliban operate from sanctuaries.

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