Two suspected U.S. missile strikes Friday on villages near the border with Afghanistan killed at least 19 people, most of them militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
U.S. forces recently ramped up cross-border operations against Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan's border zone – a region considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden.
Two missiles believed to have been fired from U.S. unmanned drones launched from neighboring Afghanistan hit the villages in North Waziristan before dusk, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Chief Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said officers were investigating the reported strikes, but could not confirm them. U.S. officials in Afghanistan or Washington rarely acknowledge the attacks.
One attack in Mohammadkhel village west of Miran Shah — the main town in North Waziristan tribal agency — killed at least 19 people, most of them alleged militants and some foreigners, the intelligence officials said, citing agents in the field.
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There were no reported casualties in the other strike in the village of Khata Kaly, they said.
A senior army official confirmed the incident but asked not to be named.
“Our ground agents have confirmed missile hit the compound in Mohammadkhel and killed about 19 people inside. Some were foreigners – six or seven – and the rest were local Taliban militants.”
Officials said this week that a suspected U.S. missile strike on a Taliban commander's home in Pakistan killed six people late Tuesday.
Pakistan says the attacks often cause civilian casualties and fan extremism. U.S. officials complain that Pakistan was unwilling or unable to act against the militants, straining ties between the two anti-terror allies.
Militants in the border region are blamed for rising attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and attacks in Pakistan, including the Sept. 20 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed more than 50 people.
On Friday, Pakistan's Interior Minister chief Rehman Malik said its war against Islamic extremists will go on until it is “terrorism-free.”
Previous Pakistani military campaigns against Islamic militants in the wild tribal belt along the Afghan frontier were halted too soon, he said – an apparent reference to the policies of former President Pervez Musharraf.
Malik said the current government, which rose to power after February elections and forced Musharraf to resign in July, will fight until militants are either killed or forced to flee Pakistan.
Pakistan's army is battling militants in at least three areas of the northwest. The most intense fighting has been in the Bajur tribal region, where the military claims to have killed 1,000 rebels for the loss of about 60 troops.
The country's faltering efforts so far have been met with a blur of suicide bombings that have killed nearly 1,200 people since July 2007, according to army statistics released this week.