U.S. drone strike kills 6 in Pakistan, first since March

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:53am EDT

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - U.S. drone aircraft fired four missiles in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday, killing six militants, days after the head of the country's intelligence agency called for an end to the strikes that have caused deep anger.

The missiles were fired from two unmanned planes and aimed at a vehicle in Baghar village 12 km (about 8 miles) east of the Afghan border, residents and officials said.

"I heard four blasts while several drone (aircraft) were flying over the area," Rahimullah Wazir, a resident, told Reuters.

A security official in the region said the missiles hit a vehicle carrying militants. "We have confirmation of six but toll could be high," he said.

The strike came two days after Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, sought an end to the drone campaign during a meeting in the United States with CIA Director Leon Panetta, officials said.

The United States has been using drone attacks to target al Qaeda-linked militants over the past few years in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, a source of concern for the Pakistan government because civilians casualties inflame public anger, and bolster support for militancy.

Wednesday's strike was the first since March 17, when a similar attack killed 38 suspected militants and drew very rare condemnation from the country's powerful military chief.

In March, Pakistan refused to attend a meeting to discuss the conflict in Afghanistan between Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan, in protest against the strike in North Waziristan tribal agency, a known hub for al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border.

Ties between the intelligence agencies of the United States and Pakistan soured further over the case of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore in January.

Pakistan held Davis despite U.S. insistence that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. He was released last month after the families of the dead men were paid compensation, a custom in Pakistan and sanctioned in Islam.

(Reporting by Hafiz Wazir and Saud Mehsud; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Rebecca Conway and Sanjeev Miglani)

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