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U.S. strike kills 12 more militants in Pakistan

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - U.S. drone planes fired missiles at a compound in Pakistan’s northwest region, killing a dozen insurgents on Wednesday, security officials said, the 12th such strike this month.

The raid, the third in less than 24 hours, was targeted in North Waziristan, a major sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban on the Afghan border.

“At least eight missiles were fired and at least 12 militants were killed,” a security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Another security official said those killed were “Punjabi Taliban,” a term used for militants from the central Pakistani province of Punjab, who were working closely with the Haqqani network, one of the brutal Afghan militant factions fighting U.S.-led foreign forces across the border.

Named after veteran mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group is now led by his son Siraj and is closely linked to al Qaeda. North Waziristan is a major base for Haqqani network.

The pre-dawn strike took place in Dargah Mandi, a village on the outskirts of North Waziristan’s main town of Miranshah.

Security analysts say the intensification in missile strikes, particularly in North Waziristan, could be linked to the delay by Pakistan in launching new anti-Taliban offensives as it struggles to cope with August’s devastating floods.

The Pakistani army has diverted more than 60,000 of its men for flood rescue and relief operations though the army says it had not redeployed any of the 140,000 soldiers fighting militants in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border. Pakistan has an estimated force of about 550,000 soldiers.

“Americans know that the Pakistan army could not take any major action in tribal areas for a long time, therefore, they have no other viable alternative to this strategy (of missile attacks) right now,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Taliban affairs.

Pakistan, a crucial U.S. ally for its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, has launched major offensives against homegrown militants attacking the Pakistani state but the United States has long demanded its ally extend its crackdown on Afghan militant factions, particularly the Haqqani network.

A senior Pakistani security official said stepped up missile strikes were not “unexpected.”

“We were expecting them to intensify pressure on militants on both sides of the border as they go for the troop build-up in Afghanistan. It’s part of that strategy and I think they will continue with this policy,” he said.

He said there could be some “minor adjustments” in the military’s fight against militants due to floods; in some places, the army has shifted to a defensive posture but there was no change in overall strategy.

“We can’t afford to lower guards. How can it be done when they are still attacking and exploding bombs?”

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (The Taliban Movement of Pakistan), who have unleashed attacks across Pakistan, last week threatened more strikes in response to U.S. drone attacks.

The al-Qaeda-linked TTP has made threats against U.S. and European targets, but has so far failed to carry out any overseas attacks. The attempt by Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, in May was the closest the group came to success.

Additional reporting and writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani