Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has deployed about 70,000 troops in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan to hunt remnants of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Shaukat Sultan, the army’s spokesman, said 99 percent of the fighters killed in the afternoon aerial assault in Dila Khula, a South Waziristan village on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, were Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens.
Recent investigations into terrorist attacks in Pakistan led the military to believe the camp was linked to al-Qaida. Sultan could not confirm whether any high-value al-Qaida targets were present at the site, but said without giving details, that the men had been involved in terrorist acts inside Pakistan.
In the past, Pakistan has overstated the scope of its military operations, claiming to have captured or killed foreigners and top al-Qaida leaders that turn out to be local tribesmen.
Hours after the air strike on Dila Khula, Pakistani troops targeted a hideout at Kani Guram, also in South Waziristan, killed six militants, including foreigners, and seized several computers and dozens of CDs, Sultan said.
North and South Waziristan are considered a possible hideout for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, and his main strategist al-Zawahiri, though no hard evidence of their whereabouts has surfaced.
A white turbaned al-Zawahiri appeared alone on al-Qaida’s latest videotape broadcast by the al-Jazeera television network Thursday. In the past, both al-Zawahiri and bin Laden have appeared together.
On the tape, translated by a U.S. government agency, al-Zawahiri scoffs at the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, declares the United States will lose those wars, and vows that al-Qaida would attack the United States again.
“The Americans in both countries are between two fires; if they continue, they will bleed until death, and if they withdraw, they will lose everything,” al-Zawahiri said in the tape.
U.S. intelligence analysts confirm the tape’s authenticity and say al-Zawahiri’s references to the Iraqi interim government in Baghdad, and the situation in Darfur, Sudan, indicate the tape was made recently. A senior administration official said that bin Laden may have not wanted to make a tape fearing “it would raise his profile, even temporarily.”
Bin Laden has not appeared in an authenticated video since one broadcast on Dec 27, 2001 the official said.
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Friday that it was interesting that al-Zawahiri has been more vocal than his boss in recent years, and speculated that the al-Qaida leader might be dead.
U.S. intelligence officials say the release of the tape does not mean an al-Qaida attack is pending because in the past the group has issued tapes to coincide with the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.
“If something had not aired, that actually would have raised more questions,” an official said in The New York Times, “so I wouldn’t overanalyze this.”