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17 killed in US drone attacks in Pakistan


Islamabad : At least six suspected Al Qaeda members and 11 local militants were killed Friday as US drones fired around a half dozen missiles at two militant hideouts in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

Three Hellfire missiles targeted a house in the Zirki area of Mir Ali in the tribal district of South Waziristan, a known sanctuary for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

“Four foreigners and five local Taliban militants have been confirmed dead, while some people are injured,” said the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Taliban have cordoned off the area and they are trying to pull out more injured or bodies, if there are some, from the rubble,” he added.

Separately, two missiles were fired at at a house by suspected US drones in the Gangi Khel area of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

“Eight bodies have been recovered from the demolished building, while some people, including women and children, are still believed to be trapped under the rubble,” said another intelligence official. He feared the death toll might rise.

“According to the information we have received from the locals, two of those killed are foreigners of Arab origin,” he added.

These were the first such attack since US President Barack Obama took office Tuesday.

US forces have carried out dozens of drone attacks on suspected positions of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants late last year, which also saw the first documented ground operation by American troops inside Pakistan.

Though the strikes have eliminated several Al Qaeda operatives, the Pakistani government has condemned them, saying they violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and complicates its efforts against terrorism by fuelling public anger.

The fresh US drone strike might disappoint Pakistani authorities, who were expecting a review by Obama administration of the Bush administration’s policy to intensify aerial attacks on Pakistani soil.

“It’s too early to reach at conclusions. Obama took over just two days ago and he cannot change the years-old policy just in that short time,” said Pakistan’s former interior minister and a retired general, Hamid Nawaz.

“But even if he is unable to bring about any change, we should stick to our national interests and do what is in our own interests,” he added.

The Pakistani government is under public pressure to abandon cooperation in the US-led international fight against terrorism if drone attacks are not halted within its borders.