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Taliban to U.S.: End drone strikes in Pakistan, or no more polio vaccines

By Reza Sayah, CNN
June 18, 2012 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
Afghan Health Ministry employees administer polio vaccine drops to a child in Laghman province on June 11, 2012.
Afghan Health Ministry employees administer polio vaccine drops to a child in Laghman province on June 11, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The leader of a Taliban faction in North Waziristan says drone strikes are worse than polio
  • The U.S. believes the district is a haven for the Haqqani network and other militant groups
  • It's not clear how the Taliban's decree will impact the polio eradication campaign
  • Pakistan is one of three countries that have yet to eradicate polio

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A Taliban commander in northwest Pakistan has announced a ban on polio vaccines for children as long as the United States continues its campaign of drone strikes in the region, according to a statement by the Taliban.

"Polio drops will be banned in North Waziristan until the drones strikes are stopped," said the statement, released Saturday.

"Almost every resident of North Waziristan has become a mental patient because of the drone strikes, which are worse than polio," the statement continued. "On one hand, the U.S. spends millions of dollars to eliminate polio, while on the other hand it kills hundreds with the help of its slave, Pakistan."

Pakistan remains one of only three countries that have yet to eradicate polio.

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The country's polio campaign made headlines last year when a Pakistani doctor was linked to a CIA operation to verify Osama bin Laden's whereabouts with a door-to-door vaccination campaign in the town of Abbottabad, where the al Qaeda leader was hiding before he was killed.

U.S. officials have said the plan did not work, but aid groups and Pakistani health officials have said the CIA's alleged meddling with a vaccination campaign undermined Pakistan's efforts to eradicate polio.

Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur made the decision on the vaccination ban after consulting with other Taliban leaders, according to the statement.

Bahadur commands the faction of the Taliban based in North Waziristan, the district Washington believes is the main safe haven for the Haqqani network and other militant groups fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan.

It's not clear how Bahadur's decree will impact the polio eradication campaign in North Waziristan or in nearby districts, where he doesn't wield as much power.

It is widely believed that Bahadur is allied with the Haqqani network and provides shelter for the group in North Waziristan. The United States has pushed Pakistan to launch an offensive against the militant groups in North Waziristan, but Pakistani military officials have resisted, saying their troops are stretched too thin.

In April, U.S. President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan acknowledged the use of U.S. drones.

"Yes, in full accordance with the law -- and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives -- the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones," Brennan said.

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