Suspected U.S. drone strike targets Pakistani Taliban militants: sources

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suspected U.S. drone strike killed several Pakistani Taliban militants in North Waziristan close to the Afghanistan border, one militant commander and multiple intelligence sources said on Thursday.

If confirmed, the air strike, which happened on Wednesday, would only be the second drone attack inside the nuclear-armed nation since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.

But one regional Pakistani official disputed the location, saying it was inside Afghanistan.

Abdullah Wazirstani, spokesman for North Waziristan Taliban, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, said the strike killed three civilian “labourers” and seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban, which is also known as TTP.

Malik Waheedullah, a local tribal leader, told Reuters he saw two missiles strike a mountain home which caught fire. “I drove away as fast as I could,” he said.

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One Pakistani intelligence official and government source said they believed the strike to be a U.S. drone attack.

Multiple other Pakistani intelligence and military sources, as well as those from Islamist groups, told Reuters the drone attack occurred inside Pakistan, close to to the Afghanistan border.

But Kamran Afridi, who holds the post of ‘political agent’ in North Waziristan, disputed the location of the attack.

“It was not on our soil,” said Afridi.

North Waziristan was a Taliban stronghold until 2014, when Pakistan’s military launched a major offensive against the group and pushed many of its fighters across the border into Afghanistan.

Sources from the TTP identified one of the dead militants as Abdur Rahman, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan have become rare over the past few years. In its last high-profile attack inside Pakistan, the United States last May killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

(This version of the article corrects Kamran Afridi’s comments to say drone strike was in Afghanistan, not Pakistan)

Additional reporting by Javed Hussain, Jibran Ahmad and Haji Mujataba; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Saad Sayeed and Ralph Boulton