Pakistani soldiers and tribesman shot down a suspected U.S. military drone near the Afghan border Tuesday night, three intelligence officials said.
If verified, it apparently would be the first pilotless aircraft brought down over Pakistan and likely would add to tensions between Washington and Islamabad over recent U.S. cross-border incursions into the nation's lawless tribal regions.
The three officials said the aircraft was hit at the village of Jalal Khel in South Waziristan after circling the area for several hours. Wreckage was strewn on the ground, they said, on condition of anonymity.
A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Capt. Christian Patterson, said officials were looking into the claim.
The report came a day after intelligence officers said two U.S. helicopters crossed a mile into Pakistan late Sunday over North Waziristan, but flew off after Pakistani troops and tribesmen opened fire. The Pentagon denied any incursion by U.S. helicopters.
While causing widespread anger among Pakistanis, the apparent raids by U.S. forces, including missile strikes and a ground assault, have underlined Washington's concerns that the government is unwilling or incapable of rooting out the Taliban and other extremists on the border.
The U.S. is known to operate drones in neighboring Afghanistan that sometimes conduct surveillance of suspected militant hideouts inside Pakistan and occasionally launch missile attacks on the havens. Washington generally does not acknowledge the strikes, which Pakistani officials say often miss their targets and fuel support for the militants.
South Waziristan and other tribal areas in Pakistan's northwest are a haven for al-Qaida and Taliban militants who cross into Afghanistan to attack American and NATO troops, as well as for Pakistani extremists striking targets in Pakistan, U.S. officials say.
Washington wants Islamabad to do more to root out the extremists, but Pakistan says it has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers to the area and they regularly battle insurgents.
In the latest fighting, troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery killed at least 50 militants in the Kohat region since Monday, an army spokesman, Maj. Murad Khan, said. One solider also died, he said. Khan said the military regained control of a mountain road tunnel seized by insurgents several days ago.
In the nearby Bajur tribal region, security forces killed at least 10 militants Tuesday in the latest round of a major offensive there, government official Iqbal Khattak said.
The surge in violence is the biggest challenge facing Pakistan's new civilian government, which must balance Washington's demands against deep unhappiness among the people over the U.S. alliance.