by Staff Writers
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) March 30, 2012
A US drone launched a missile attack on a militant compound in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border early Friday, killing four insurgents, security officials said.
The missiles targeted a house in a market area of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, known as a stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, they said.
"Two missiles hit a house and four militants were killed," a security official told AFP. "The attack took place at about 3:00 am."
Witnesses said the attack triggered a fire which destroyed the building. The compound was located in the money changers market in the commercial district.
An intelligence official also put the toll at four dead and said two people were wounded. He said local people, including Pakistani Taliban, were engaged in rescue work.
Officials said the identity of the dead militants was not immediately known.
An AFP reporter said armed men, covering their faces with scarves, were seen collecting belongings including blood stained clothes and documents from the rubble. Militants ringed the area and barred entry to the house.
The blast destroyed five shops including a bakery, three grocery shops and a telephone kiosk.
"I was sleeping in my home when a deafening sound woke me up," resident Yousuf Khan told AFP.
"Fearing that my house has been attacked, I peeped out of my window and saw flames raging from the building facing my house. Two men holding Kalashnikov rifles warned me to go inside. I shut the window and went to sleep."
Waziristan is the most notorious militant stronghold in Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt. Washington considers it the premier hub for Taliban and Al-Qaeda to plot attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.
Pakistan wants drone strikes to stop, arguing that they are counter-productive because they kill civilians, exacerbate anti-US sentiment and violate sovereignty.
The frequency of such attacks has diminished in recent months, but US officials are believed to consider them too useful to discontinue the strikes altogether.
Pakistan called Thursday for open dialogue with the US, even before parliament wraps up a protracted debate on repairing an anti-terror alliance that nearly ruptured over a series of crises.
US President Barack Obama and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met Tuesday at a nuclear summit in Seoul for talks that an Obama aide said "made important progress" in both sides hearing from one another.
And on Wednesday, the top US generals overseeing the Afghan war, John Allen and James Mattis, met Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani for the first time since US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
Those strikes prompted a furious Islamabad to shut NATO supply lines into Afghanistan and evict US personnel from an airbase reportedly used as a hub in America's drone war against militants.
Despite this week's talks, no date has been announced for Pakistan to re-open the Afghan crossings to NATO supplies and officials admit privately that the process may take longer than initially thought.
President Obama in January confirmed for the first time that US drones target militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.
According to an AFP tally, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal belt in 2009, the year Obama took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
The New America Foundation think-tank in Washington says drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan in the past eight years.
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