U.S. senators defend Pakistan missile strike that killed 18

Monday, January 16, 2006

U.S. senators are defending the missile strike that left 18 Pakistani villagers, including women and children, dead in northern Pakistan but missed the alleged al-Qaeda member Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Senator Trent Lott said the strike was "clearly justified by the intelligence". Senator Evan Bayh explained that with the lack of government control in the tribal areas "regrettably, this kind of thing is what we're left with." He said, "Now, it's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" Senator John McCain apologized for the strike, but added that he couldn't say the U.S. would not do the same thing again. He added the U.S. has "to do what [we] think is necessary to take out al-Qaeda, particularly the top operatives. This guy has been more visible than Osama bin Laden lately."

Meanwhile the killings prompted demonstrations across Pakistan on Sunday. They were mostly organized by Islamist factions, but opposition political parties as well as a key coalition partner of the current government participated. "There has been a protest in every big city, and the government understands why so many people are angry," said Pakistan's information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad. The demonstrators were mostly peaceful, chanting "Death to America" and "Stop bombing innocent people," but on Saturday the office of a U.S. backed aid agency was set on fire.

A Pakistani intelligence official has contradicted reports that DNA tests were being performed on the victims to determine their identity. "What do you think, that the families of the victims would let us or the Americans dig the graves of their loved ones for FBI tests? An absolutely crazy idea."

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