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Islamic fighters face greater drone threat

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The growing use of a Pakistani tribal area as a sanctuary for Islamic insurgents is facilitating more U.S. drone strikes against them, military analysts say.

The militants, driven from other areas, may find the mountainous Northwest Waziristan attractive, with Islamabad's refusal to attack them in the sanctuaries, The New York Times reported. The sanctuaries are used to plan and launch attacks against NATO forces across the border into Afghanistan.

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More senior U.S. intelligence and counterinsurgency officials say this leads the militants to cluster in such havens, making themselves richer targets for the U.S. drones.

U.S. officials are reluctant to say anything for fear of undermining the urgent calls of the administration of President Barack Obama on Pakistan to do more militarily in North Waziristan, the Times said. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, stressed that without eliminating the safe havens it would not be possible to succeed in Afghanistan.

Pakistani military operations in the other six of the country's seven tribal areas are driving militants into North Waziristan, the report said. But this has also made it easier for the CIA drone program to concentrate on North Waziristan without fear of inadvertently striking Pakistani soldiers, the report said. Quoting the Long war Journal, the report said the number of drone strikes in North Waziristan totaled 104 last year, up from 22 in 2009. There have been fie strikes so far this year.

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U.S. administration officials say the drone strikes have limitations and stress the need for Pakistan to use ground troops to push out the militants, the report said.

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