U.S. missiles "don't help" Pakistan war effort

ISLAMABAD Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:18am GMT

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -U.S. missile attacks on Islamist militants in Pakistan do not help its efforts in the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari said on Sunday.

U.S. drones fired missiles into Pakistan late on Friday killing 17 people, intelligence officials and residents said, in the first such strike since Barack Obama became U.S. president.

Pakistan objects to the strikes on its territory, saying they not only a violation of its sovereignty but are counter-productive to its efforts to tackle the militants in its lawless ethnic Pashtun lands on the Afghan border.

Zardari discussed the attacks with U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson at a lunch on Saturday, said the president's spokesman, Farhatullah Babar.

"The president said that these attacks do not help the war on terror," Babar said.

The Daily Times newspaper quoted Zardari telling Patterson: "These attacks can affect Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terror." Babar said he could not comment on the specifics of what was discussed.

The United States, frustrated by an intensifying Afghan insurgency and what it sees as Pakistan's failure to stem the flow of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from northwest Pakistan into Afghanistan, stepped up the missile attacks last year.

It has carried out about 30 missile attacks, according to a Reuters tally, more than half of them in the last four months of the year.

The attacks killed more than 220 people, including foreign militants, according to reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.

There was no sign Friday's strikes hit any of al Qaeda's top leadership.

"COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE"

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said it hoped the new U.S. administration would review the policy, although during his election campaign Obama had spoken of strikes into Pakistan if the Pakistani military was unwilling or unable to tackle militant targets.

"With the advent of the new U.S. administration it is Pakistan's sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach," the ministry said in a statement.

"We maintain that these attacks are counter-productive and should be discontinued," it said.

Pakistani authorities said the drone attacks, which sometimes kill villagers, enrage Pashtun tribesmen and drive them into the arms of the militants when authorities were trying to isolate the militants by winning the tribes to the government side.

The attacks came a day after Obama appointed foreign policy veteran Richard Holbrooke as a special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama has ordered a review of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and is expected to bolster troop levels, perhaps nearly doubling the number of U.S. troops to 60,000 from 32,000.

Pakistani analysts said Holbrooke's appointment showed the new U.S. administration would push a multi-track policy in its efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, not relying on a surge of troops to do the job.

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Alex Richardson)