MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Some 2,000 people in a Taliban-controlled region of northwest Pakistan demonstrated Friday against American missile attacks pounding the area, calling for an end to the strikes and the arrest of the U.S. officials behind them.
Around 150 Taliban fighters watched over the demonstration in the town of Miran Shah in North Waziristan. The insurgents regularly execute people they accuse of collaborating with the American attacks, so whether those attending the rally were doing so of their free will was highly questionable.
U.S.-operated drones last year launched around 115 attacks at militant targets in North Waziristan, and there have already been several strikes there this year. U.S. officials insist the attacks are precise and kill primarily Taliban and al-Qaida militants hiding along the Afghan border, though there have been credible accounts of civilian casualties.
Shop owners, students and other residents shouted anti-American slogans, and called for U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the former CIA station chief in Islamabad be brought to justice. "They should be arrested and punished by the courts in America," said Abdul Khan, a student leader.
Pakistan officially protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but its security agencies are believed to secretly cooperate with the program. While Pakistan's army has attacked militants in other parts of the Afghan border region over the last 2 1/2 years, North Waziristan has been largely left alone.
Pakistani military commanders say the army is too stretched to attack North Waziristan anytime soon, but many analysts believe that Pakistan wants to avoid upsetting militant groups in North Waziristan that it view as future allies against Indian influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves.
In Pakistan's southwest on Friday, gunmen torched two tankers carrying fuel for U.S. and NATO forces, wounding two drivers.
Police official Abdul Zahoor says one tanker was attacked in the Qilat area of Baluchistan province, where gunmen over the weekend burned 14 NATO tankers. The other tanker was hit in the Mastung area.
Militants and criminals in Pakistan frequently attack trucks carrying supplies for U.S. and NATO troops. The supplies first arrive in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi and from there they travel overland to Afghanistan.
The U.S. is relying more on other routes, including through Central Asia, due to security concerns in Pakistan.
Associated Press Writer Abdul Sattar contributed to this report from Quetta.