MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (Reuters) - A missile attack, possibly launched by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, killed at least 32 pro-Taliban militants in a Pakistani tribal region near the border on Tuesday, Pakistani officials said.
The missiles targeted a suspected training base in a village near the mountainous Datta Khel district, 60 km (40 miles) west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media, told Reuters.
Intelligence officials said some foreigners were among those killed, raising the possibility that al Qaeda fighters might have also been present. North Waziristan is a known refuge for remnants of Osama bin Laden’s network.
“There was a cluster of three houses and a tent which were hit. There were about 45 people in that area,” a senior government official told Reuters.
Army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said there had been an explosion in the area, but he denied it was caused by missiles and added that the army had not carried out any operations there either.
“It wasn’t a missile attack,” Arshad said, adding that initial reports suggested the explosion occurred while the militants were making a bomb.
Such explanations have been offered in the past when U.S. forces in Afghanistan have launched strikes on targets in Pakistani territory.
The government is sensitive to any report of foreign forces carrying out operations in Pakistani territory or airspace.
According to intelligence officials and residents, however, a U.S. pilotless drone aircraft carried out the attack at around 10:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).
It was not known whether any leading Taliban or al Qaeda figures were targeted in the attack.
Last September, the Pakistan government struck a controversial peace deal with militants in North Waziristan.
Under the terms of the treaty, foreign fighters were bound either to surrender or be expelled. Critics said the pact created a sanctuary for militants in North Waziristan.
President Pervez Musharraf met U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte along with Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher on Saturday. Admiral William J. Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, held a separate meeting with the Pakistani leader the same day.
Cross-border incursions by the Taliban militants have long been a bone of contention between Pakistan and Afghanistan, two U.S. allies.
Western and Afghan forces have had a series of successes against senior Taliban figures in recent months, thanks in part to Pakistan’s cooperation, though Islamabad is wary of taking any credit for fear of a backlash at home.