Suspected US missiles kill 7 militants in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A suspected U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border early Tuesday morning, killing seven alleged militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The strike occurred in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, a key hub for Taliban and al-Qaida militants, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Elsewhere in the northwest, Pakistani forces pounded militant hideouts, killing 16 suspected insurgents, said government officials.

Most of the suspected militants killed in Tuesday's drone attack were from the Pakistani Taliban, said the intelligence officials. Insurgents linked to Afghan militant groups who were harboring them were also killed, they said.

The U.S. has conducted around 200 drone strikes in North Waziristan in recent years, mostly targeting al-Qaida militants and Afghan Taliban fighters who are battling American troops in Afghanistan. Some of the strikes have also hit the Pakistani Taliban, who are allied with Afghan groups but have focused their fighting against the Pakistani state.

The U.S. does not acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

Pakistani officials have criticized the strikes as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past and even let the drones take off from bases inside Pakistan.

That support has become strained as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated, especially in the wake of the covert American raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May. The Pakistani government was not notified of the operation beforehand.

The U.S. has pushed Pakistan to take military action in North Waziristan, or at least provide Washington with intelligence that could be used to target insurgents battling American forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. is especially focused on the Haqqani network, which it deems the most dangerous militant group in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has said it can't conduct a military operation in North Waziristan because its troops are stretched too thin fighting the Pakistani Taliban in other parts of the tribal region. Many analysts believe, however, that Pakistan is reluctant to target groups like the Haqqani network with which it has historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

One place where the Pakistani military has conducted an offensive is the Orakzai tribal area, also in the country's northwest. Ground forces backed by helicopter gunships pounded five militant hideouts in Orakzai's Dabori area Tuesday, killing 16 suspected militants, said Jamil Khan, a local administrator. The area is home to supporters of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

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Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal contributed to this report from Parachinar, Pakistan.

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