ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A missile-firing U.S. drone aircraft killed eight militants, including some foreigners, on Wednesday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
It was the fourth drone strike in northwest Pakistan since Monday evening and came as the United States was weighing options for how to deal with an intensifying Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
Two missiles hit a vehicle and a nearby compound in a village 20 km (12 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, a Taliban and al Qaeda militant hotbed, the officials said.
“We have eight dead from the vehicle but we’re not sure if anybody was in the compound at the time or anybody was killed there,” said one of the security officials, who declined to be identified.
Among the dead three were Arabs, three Pakistanis a Chechan and an Uzbek, another Pakistani intelligence agency official said. There was no word on the nationality of the Arabs or the identity of any of the dead.
The United States stepped up its attacks by pilotless drones on militants in northwestern Pakistani border sanctuaries last year as the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan intensified.
There have been about 60 such strikes since the beginning of 2008, including one in early August that killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
For weeks, the Taliban denied that their chief had been killed but Wednesday, Pakistani television channels broadcast a brief video clip of the dead Mehsud.
Mehsud’s body was wrapped in a white shroud with only his head exposed. His bearded face had several small wound marks. The television channels said they obtained the video from the Taliban.
The government ordered the army to launch an offensive against Mehsud and his men in their South Waziristan stronghold in June, but security forces have limited their action to air strikes and occasional shelling.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Sunday the government had yet to decide whether to launch a full-scale offensive.
Despite the killing of Mehsud, Pakistan officially objects to the drone strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and the civilian casualties they sometimes inflict inflame public anger.
U.S. officials say the strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.
About 510 people, most of them militants, have been killed in the U.S. drone strikes since early last year, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani security officials and residents.
The options the United States is considering to turn the tide in Afghanistan include sending more combat troops and trainers for the Afghan army and stepping up drone strikes on militants on the Pakistani side of the border.