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U.S. Increases Missile Attacks in Taliban Stronghold

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Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government increased the number of missile attacks this month against Islamic militant guerrilla groups in northwest Pakistan to the most this year, according to researchers who monitor the campaign.

The U.S. so far has launched 22 missile strikes in September, almost a third of this year’s total of 76, according to a count maintained by the Washington-based New America Foundation. The policy research group counted four such attacks in August and five in July.

All of this month’s reported strikes -- which typically are fired from remotely piloted Predator or Reaper aircraft -- have hit Pakistan’s Waziristan region, a Taliban stronghold that borders Afghanistan, the foundation said.

Nineteen of the missile raids have hit North Waziristan, a district dominated by the Taliban factions of Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and Pakistani guerrilla leader Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Al-Qaeda’s operational chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Sheik Fateh, was killed this month by a drone strike, Agence France-Press said yesterday, citing unidentified Pakistani security officials.

‘Flurry of Strikes’

“The last time there was a flurry of strikes comparable to this was in January, following the suicide attack on a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in late December 2009,” said Katherine Tiedemann, a research fellow at the New America Foundation. “There were 12 strikes reported that month.”

There may be several reasons for increased attacks, said Alan Kronstadt, a Pakistan analyst with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

“There’s been a need seen to keep pressure on the Haqqani group,” Kronstadt said in an interview.

After floods that ravaged much of Pakistan, the U.S. also “wanted to send a message there would be no relaxing for them in whatever interim there is” before counterterrorism operations on the ground resume, Kronstadt said.

The guerilla groups in North Waziristan have sheltered fighters and high-ranking leaders of al-Qaeda, and U.S. missile strikes there in the past two years have aimed at disrupting al-Qaeda preparations for attacks on Europe or the U.S., according to Bill Roggio, managing editor of the Long War Journal website on counterterrorism.

This month’s spike in missile attacks is part of a yearlong escalation. The U.S. has fired more than 75 missiles into Pakistan so far this year, up from 53 in 2009, according to the New America Foundation’s count.

To contact the reporters on this story: James Rupert in Islamabad at jrupert3@bloomberg.net; Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net.

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