US attacks 'helping terrorists', says Pakistan

US missile attacks on suspected militants in Pakistan's north-west near Afghanistan are undermining the war on terror and "helping the terrorists", the Muslim nation's Foreign Ministry has said.

The comments came as a suicide bomber attacked an anti-insurgent group in a north-west tribal area yesterday, killing at least 22 and wounding around 100 people. The Orakzai area tribesmen had gathered to plan the demolition of a militant base.

Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters have established bases throughout Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal regions, where they are said to plan attacks on US and Nato forces in Afghanistan as well violence in Pakistan.

Pakistan has carried out military offensives against insurgents while also trying to woo various tribes to turn against the extremists. Some pro-government tribes have set up militias to fight insurgents.

However, in a sign of US impatience with Pakistani efforts, American forces have stepped up their own cross-border assaults on alleged militant targets.

The US is suspected in at least 11 missile strikes on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border since mid-August, killing more than 100 people, most of them alleged militants, according to an Associated Press count based on figures provided by Pakistan intelligence officials.

The US rarely confirms or denies the attacks, which Pakistan's military and civilian leaders have criticised as violations of the country's sovereignty.

"We want them (the US) to realize that these attacks are destabilising the situation, and they are not helping them or Pakistan," Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said. "They are helping the terrorists."

The strikes are unpopular among many Pakistanis and used by critics and Muslim conservatives to rally support in their campaign to unseat the country's broadly secular, pro-US government.

Yesterday's suicide attack occurred in Orakzai, a tribal region near the main north-west city of Peshawar that has been relatively peaceful.

Some 500 people of the Alikhel tribe, which has set up a militia to fight insurgents, were gathered when the attacker struck. The tribesmen intended to destroy a major militant base, said Sher Akbar Khan, a government official.

He said 22 people were killed. A senior government official, Kamran Zeb Khan, said around 100 people were wounded in the blast, many of them critically.

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