Suspected U.S. missile attack kills 7 in Pakistan

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan Thu Oct 23, 2008 10:09am EDT

1 of 3. Tribesmen hold pieces of a missile at the site of a missile attack on the outskirts of Miranshah, near the Afghan border, October 23, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Haji Mujtaba

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MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles into a Pakistani village early on Thursday, killing at least seven people, residents and an official said, the latest strike on a stronghold of a veteran Taliban commander.

The attack targeted a village in the North Waziristan region near the Afghan border where Jalaluddin Haqqani, an old friend of Osama bin Laden, had established a madrasa or religious school. Haqqani's extended family used to live there.

Residents said three missiles were fired by pilotless drones and one hit the madrasa while the other two hit a house 500 meters away.

"Eight militants were sleeping in the courtyard of the house. All of them were killed. They were local militants," a villager standing at the scene of the strike told Reuters on condition he not be identified.

An intelligence agency official said seven people, including militants, were killed.

Twenty-three people, most of them relatives of Haqqani, were killed in a similar attack on the same village in September.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan, frustrated over growing cross-border attacks from the Pakistani side of the border, have carried out about a dozen missile strikes and a commando raid in Pakistan since the beginning of September.

A large number of militants have been killed in the attacks but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commander has been reported to have been killed.

Pakistan, an important partner in the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, objects to the U.S. strikes on its territory saying they violate its sovereignty and increase support for the militants.

MILITANTS SAID KILLED

Haqqani is a veteran of the U.S.-backed war against the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s and his extended family had been living in North Waziristan since then. Haqqani's links with bin Laden go back to the late 1980s.

One of Haqqani's sons had told Reuters that the elderly commander was in Afghanistan when the village was hit in September.

Taliban sources say Haqqani is in poor health and his son, Sirajuddin, has been leading the Haqqani group.

Separately, Pakistani artillery, backed by helicopter gunships, pounded militant positions in the Bajaur region overnight and early on Thursday, and residents and officials said nine militants were killed.

Bajaur is another militant sanctuary on the Afghan border, to the northeast of Waziristan.

The military says more than 1,000 militants have been killed in Bajaur since it launched an offensive in August but there has been no independent verification of that casualty estimate.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is grappling with a surge of militant violence and an economic crisis that has raised fears for its stability.

Islamabad is expected to begin talks on a loan program with the International Monetary Fund in the next few days after the government approached the agency for help, having run out of options to rectify its economic crisis.

Pakistan's backing for the U.S.-led campaign against militancy is deeply unpopular though the government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to maintain support and root out terrorism, while offering talks with militants who give up arms.

The country's parliament passed a resolution late on Wednesday essentially endorsing the government's strategy though it said dialogue must be the highest priority.

(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani and Sahibzada Bahauddin; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Valerie Lee)

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