No drone attacks in Balochistan: Gates


No drone attacks in Balochistan: Gates
By Anwar Iqbal, DAWN, PAKISTAN
Friday, 20 Mar, 2009 | 12:09 AM PST

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said that the United States was concerned about the activities of the Quetta shura in Balochistan but disagreed with the suggestion to use drones against them as well.

At a regular briefing at the Pentagon, Mr Gates also vowed to catch Osama bin Laden no matter how long it takes.

Asked to comment on media reports that a group of Taliban militants known as the Quetta shura were using Balochistan as a base to conduct operations inside Afghanistan, Mr Gates said: ‘We all have a concern about the Quetta shura and the activities of the Taliban in that area.’

But he disagreed with the suggestion that the United States should use CIA-operated unmanned drone aircraft to attack the Quetta shura as well.

‘I think this is principally a problem and a challenge for the Pakistanis to take on. And as we have indicated, we are prepared to do anything we can to help them do that,’ the secretary said.

The United States uses these drone aircraft, known as the Predators, to attack al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Fata.

Besides eliminating some of the militants, the drone attacks also have killed scores of civilians, causing widespread resentment against the United States.

Another journalist at the briefing observed that while Pakistan was helping the United States against al Qaeda, it was not cooperating in the fighting against the Taliban militants.

Asked to comment on this assessment, which the journalist attributed to US intelligence officials, Mr Gates said: ‘I’m not going to get into that.’

Osama bin Laden
Talking about the possibility of catching Osama bin Laden, Secretary Gates recalled that it took the US Federal Investigation Agency 17 years to catch convicted Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.

He dismissed the notion that something might be amiss because bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, remain free more than seven years after the September 11 attacks.

‘To a certain extent, I think too many people go to too many movies. Finding these guys is really hard, and especially if they have some kind of a support network,’ he said.

The United States blames Bin Laden and Zawahri for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil. US officials believe they are hiding in the rugged terrain along Afghanistan’s mountainous border with Pakistan.

‘We’ve done some serious damage to al Qaeda over the last number of months,’ Mr Gates, a former CIA director, said without confirming any missile attacks against al Qaeda targets.

‘Everybody continues to look for No. 1 and No. 2. And we will continue that effort and I think everyone’s hope is that one of these days, we’ll be successful,’ he said.

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