U.S. drone strike kills 21 in northwest Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Wed Aug 10, 2011 3:47am EDT

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed at least 21 suspected militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region Wednesday, officials said, just days after Pakistan called for "clear terms of engagement" in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Among those targeted in the attack on a house 3 km (2 miles) east of the main town of Miranshah were members of the Haqqani network responsible for the worsening insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, and foreign militants.

"The dead included local Taliban as well as some Arabs and Uzbek nationals," an intelligence official in North Waziristan said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It was the largest strike since July 12, when U.S. drones killed 48 suspected militants in North Waziristan.

Drone strikes have been a major source of friction between the United States and Pakistan, with ties at their worst since U.S. Special Forces killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a secret raid in a Pakistani garrison town in May.

Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari called for "clear terms of engagement" between the two countries in the fight against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban operating in the country.

He did not spell out the terms of engagement but they likely involve more consultation on drone strikes as well as greater oversight of CIA activities in Pakistan, military experts said.

While Pakistan in the past was seen to have given tacit support to the drone campaign in its militant-infested northwest region, the red lines appeared to have been crossed with the bin Laden raid.

Pakistan saw that operation as a grievous breach of sovereignty prompting army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to call for a halt to the drone strikes.

But Washington appears determined to press forward with drone attacks, which its sees as an effective tool to stem cross-border attacks by militants on foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Some Afghan insurgents belonging to the Haqqani network, a major militant fighting U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan, were among the dead in Wednesday's strike, a Pakistani intelligence official said.

It was not immediately known if any high-profile militants were among the dead. Militants often dispute official account of such strikes.

Initial reports said five militants were killed in the attack but officials said the toll had gone up to 21 after more bodies were found from the rubble of the house.

The latest strike took the death toll of suspected militants in such attacks since the beginning of June to more than 160, according to Reuters figures based on statements from local intelligence officials.

(Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Zeeshan Haider, Rebecca Conway and Sanjeev Miglani)

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