Suspected US missile kills 12 in Pakistan: official
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - A missile from a suspected US drone killed 12 people Friday in a Pakistani tribal area where US forces have been aggressively targeting Al-Qaeda militants -- fuelling anger from Washington's key "war on terror" ally.
The missile hit a house on the outskirts of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, a local official said, in the fourth such strike in a week aimed at Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters hiding out in the rugged tribal area.
"The pre-dawn strike destroyed the house and 12 people were killed," the official told AFP, adding that another 14 people were wounded.
The 12 were believed to be rebel fighters, locals said, adding that the house hit in the Tol Khel area had been rented by an Afghan militant organisation, Al Badar, and was being used as an office.
Al Badar, backed by former guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has previously conducted operations against Afghan and international forces based across the border in Afghanistan, residents and a security official said.
Hekmatyar was briefly prime minister of Afghanistan in the 1990s after the end of its Soviet occupation.
He has backed the Taliban since the regime was removed from power following the US-led invasion of the country in 2001, after the September 11 attacks in the United States, and has demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan in recent weeks have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA drones based in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not have missile-equipped drones.
Thirty-eight people, including women and children, have been killed in the past week's missile attacks.
Pakistan and the United States have been drawn into a row over the strikes, with Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani this week strongly criticising them and insisting no deal existed to allow foreign troops to conduct them.
As well as missile strikes, Pakistan last week for the first time accused Afghanistan-based troops of carrying out a direct attack on its territory, a raid in the South Waziristan tribal zone that left 15 people dead.
The Pakistani army reiterated its position Friday, with an official statement, quoting Kayani, pledging to safeguard the country's "territorial integrity."
US and Afghan officials say Pakistan's tribal areas are a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who sneaked into the rugged region after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.
Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be hiding in the mountainous region.
A separate strike in North Waziristan on Monday targeted but failed to hit top Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, but did kill four mid-level Al-Qaeda operatives, a security official and a militant source said.
With tens of thousands of US and other international troops locked down in Afghanistan, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said Wednesday he had ordered a new strategy covering both sides of the border with Pakistan.
The New York Times also reported that US President George W. Bush in July secretly approved orders enabling Special Operations forces to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without Islamabad's prior approval.
In other unrest, meanwhile, Pakistani troops bombed Taliban positions for the second day running in a tribal town near the Afghan border, killing up to 23 militants, officials said.
Up to 100 Islamic fighters were killed in bombing on Thursday in different areas of Bajaur district, a hotbed of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.