May 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. missile strikes killed seven suspected militants in Pakistan’s border area near Afghanistan yesterday, according to Pakistani officials, a short time after U.S. Senator John Kerry and Pakistani leaders discussed steps to patch up relations strained by the U.S. raid that killed al- Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The two sides held what they called “a constructive exchange” in Islamabad and agreed that Pakistan and the U.S. will work together in any future action against “high-value targets” in the South Asian country, the two nations said.
“All tracks of U.S.-Pakistani engagement need to be revisited” to assure that the countries can continue to cooperate on counterterrorism, the joint statement said.
It added that U.S. officials will visit Pakistan soon to prepare for a trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed that Clinton will go ahead with a planned trip to Pakistan on a yet- to-be announced date.
While the joint statement on cooperation appeared to rule out any repeat of a U.S. unilateral attack into the country, a statement released by the Pakistan president’s office and the U.S. Embassy did not explicitly address that point or the use of U.S. drones to target suspect militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistani intelligence officials said U.S. missiles fired from a drone hit a house and a car in North Waziristan, killing seven suspected militants, according to the Associated Press. Such missile strikes in the border area, which provides a haven for militants, are very unpopular among Pakistanis.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the highest-ranking American lawmaker to visit Pakistan from Washington since the raid by Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital.
The senator met Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, as well as President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and he addressed the U.S. decision not to inform Pakistan of the raid beforehand.
“I explained that the extreme secrecy” of the U.S. assault “was essential for protecting the lives of professionals and ensuring the success of the operation,” Kerry told reporters at a press conference.
Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad -- an area that is home to a number of retired generals as well as to Pakistan’s leading military academy -- led U.S. President Barack Obama to say in an interview broadcast May 8 on the CBS program “60 Minutes” that the Pakistani government must investigate whether any of its officials helped shelter him. Kerry said yesterday that there was no evidence that Pakistan’s leaders were aware of the al- Qaeda leader’s presence in the country.
On May 14 Pakistan’s Parliament passed a resolution asking the government to consider ending a transit route used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to supply forces in Afghanistan, and to review the terms of engagement with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistan’s army has been criticized by politicians, the media and the public for failing to detect either bin Laden or the helicopter-borne Navy SEAL force that killed him. Gilani has said accusations of Pakistani complicity in hiding bin Laden are “absurd.”
Kayani told Kerry that there are “intense feelings” in the military over the raid, according to a statement issued by the army yesterday.
Pakistan is a main U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda- linked militants, and the Obama administration is pressing the government in Islamabad to cooperate more fully in the war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan has received $14.6 billion in economic and military assistance from the U.S. since 2005 to help revive growth and assist allied forces fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda guerrillas.
After the bin Laden raid, Kerry echoed concern expressed by lawmakers of both U.S. political parties that Pakistan may have knowingly harbored the terrorist leader. Appearing May 8 on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he said it was “extraordinarily hard to believe that he could have survived there for five years or more in a major population center without some kind of support system and knowledge.”
Zardari’s cooperation with Obama hasn’t been popular with Pakistanis, particularly his tolerance of U.S. drone missile attacks in tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan.
Military offensives by Pakistan’s army against the Taliban and allied guerrillas have sparked retaliatory attacks in cities nationwide that killed more than 2,000 civilians and security personnel last year, according to the South Asian terrorism database of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.
--With assistance from James Rupert in New Delhi. Editors: Terry Atlas, Leslie Hoffecker
To contact the reporters on this story: Haris Anwar in Islamabad at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at [email protected]
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