KHAR, Pakistan – A suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least 13 people near the Afghan border Friday, security officials said, the latest in a surge of attacks that a top American general said has eliminated three militant leaders.
The strikes are likely to trigger fresh anger from Pakistan's civil and military leaders, who say they undercut support for their anti-terror efforts, and from many of its 170 million people.
The suspected cross-border attack took place in Kam Sam village in North Waziristan region, a stronghold of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants blamed for attacks on U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan and rising attacks within Pakistan.
A Pakistani intelligence official said an agent who visited the village reported that 13 suspected militants had died.
The official said the targeted house belonged to a local Taliban commander and that authorities were still trying to determine who exactly was killed.
A government representative in the region also put the toll at 13.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. They said they received information from informants and agents on the ground.
Unmanned U.S. aircraft from Afghanistan are believed to have carried out at least 18 missile strikes since August in Pakistan's wild border area, a possible hiding place for Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda No.2 Ayman al-Zawahri.
Friday's attack was the first since the installation of Gen. David Petraeus as head of the U.S. Central Command on Oct. 31, giving him overall command of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview in Afghanistan on Thursday that the strikes had killed three "extremist leaders" in recent months. He did not identify them.
Pakistani leaders said they told Petraeus to stop the cross-border strikes when he visited the country earlier this week. He said he would "take on board" what they said, but gave no promise the attacks would stop.
The United States rarely confirms or denies firing the missiles and the identities of those killed are rarely confirmed. Locals frequently say civilians, sometimes women and children, are among the dead.
U.S. officials have been frustrated by what they see as insufficient action by Pakistan against extremists in the border area, a mountainous zone where the government has never had much control.
The Pakistani army is undertaking a major offensive in the border region against militants and is trying to persuade local tribes to join the fight — a task it says is made especially difficult by the U.S. attacks because of the anger they generate.
Late Thursday, Pakistani helicopters and jets killed 17 suspected militants in Taliban strongholds near the Afghan border, said Jamil Khan, the No. 2 government representative in the semiautonomous Bajur region.
Ten other insurgents were wounded in the airstrikes, he said.
Lack of security and government restrictions make it impossible to verify accounts of the fighting.
The army claims to have killed 1,500 insurgents in Bajur in the past three months in an attempt to dismantle what it said was a virtual Taliban mini-state from where militants were flowing into Afghanistan to launch attacks on the U.S.-led coalition there.
Insurgents are hitting back with homicide attacks, further dismaying a population simmering with anti-U.S. sentiment and raising doubts about nuclear-armed Pakistan's political and economic stability.
Two homicide attacks targeting pro-government tribesmen and security forces killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens in the northwest on Thursday.