U.S. drone kills five in northwest Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A U.S. drone aircraft killed five militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Sunday, Pakistani security officials said.

The United States has stepped up its drone attacks in the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary of North Waziristan since a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees at a U.S. base over the border in eastern Afghanistan in late December.

Sunday’s two-missile strike was on a militant compound near the town of Mir Ali, 280 km (175 miles) southwest of Islamabad, said the Pakistani security officials.

There was no information about the identity of those killed, they said.

The attack came as U.S. forces spearhead one of NATO’s biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan in an early test of U.S. President Barack Obama’s troop surge policy.

As well as taking on the Taliban in Afghanistan, the United States is keen to eradicate their sanctuaries in lawless ethnic Pashtun tribal lands on the Pakistani side of the border.

U.S. ally Pakistan objects to the drone strikes, saying they are a violation of its sovereignty and fuel anti-U.S. feeling which complicates Pakistan’s efforts against militancy.

The Pakistani army has made gains against Pakistani Taliban fighters who have battled the state over the past 10 months but it has ruled out a major offensive against Afghan Taliban factions on its soil, saying its forces are already stretched.

The United States has carried out 13 drone strikes in Pakistan this year, according to a Reuters tally, compared with 51 last year and 32 in 2008.

Separately, a bomb exploded in a town in the southern province of Sindh, killing three people and wounding 15, police said. There was no claim of responsibility.

Reporting by Haziz Wazir and Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Louise Ireland