Suspected U.S. drone fires missile in Pakistan, 12 dead

Wed Apr 1, 2009 2:37am EDT

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(Adds Taliban comment, background)

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD, April 1 (Reuters) - A pilotless U.S. drone aircraft fired a missile in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing 12 people, a security official and residents said.

The strike was the first drone attack in the Orakzai ethnic Pashtun tribal region, which is near but not on the Afghan border, southwest of the city of Peshawar.

The raid came a day after the leader of Pakistan Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, said his group had carried out an assault on a police training centre in the eastern city of Lahore in retaliation for U.S. drone attacks.

Residents of Khadizai village said the missile hit a Taliban headquarters and 12 people were killed. A security official, who declined to be identified, confirmed the death toll and added that 13 people had been wounded.

A Pakistani Taliban official said the missile had hit a "camp for guests".

"We have sent our people down there but we don't know about the casualties," the Taliban official, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.

Orakzai had been one of the most peaceful Pashtun regions in northwest Pakistan.

The United States, frustrated by an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan getting support from the Pakistani side of the border, began launching more drone attacks last year.

Pakistan objects to the strikes saying they are counterproductive because the civilian casualties they often inflict drive villagers into the arms of the militants.

U.S. officials say success in Afghanistan is impossible without tackling militant enclaves in northwest Pakistan, where Taliban insurgents battling Western forces rest, regroup and train recruits and al Qaeda plots violence.

Since last year, more than 30 U.S. strikes have killed about 300 people, including mid-level al Qaeda members, according to reports from Pakistani officials, residents and militants. (Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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