Suspected US missile attacks kill 7 people in NW Pakistan, say intelligence officials

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Suspected U.S. drone aircraft carried out two missile strikes against a house and a vehicle near the Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing seven alleged militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The U.S. is now suspected of conducting 19 such attacks this month — the most intense barrage since the strikes began in 2004. Most have targeted Datta Khel, part of the North Waziristan tribal area that is dominated by militants who regularly stage attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In the first strike Sunday, a drone fired three missiles at a house in Lwara Mandi village in Datta Khel, killing three suspected militants, said the intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Minutes later, a drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in the same area, killing four suspected militants, the officials said.

The exact identities of the seven people killed in the attacks were not known, but most of this month's strikes have targeted forces led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a commander who was once supported by Pakistan and the U.S. during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Haqqani has since turned against the U.S., and American military officials have said his network — now effectively led by his son, Sirajuddin — presents one of the greatest threats to foreign forces in Afghanistan. Another militant commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and his forces also hold sway in North Waziristan.

The U.S. wants Pakistan to launch an army offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan, but the government has resisted. Analysts believe Pakistan wants to maintain its historic relationship with the Haqqani network, which could be an ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Without a Pakistani offensive, the U.S. has had to rely on CIA-operated drone strikes to target the network, which also has bases in eastern Afghanistan.

The 19 missile strikes this month have killed around 90 people, according to an Associated Press tally based on Pakistani intelligence reports.

U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the missile strikes but have said privately they have killed several senior Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the region, which is largely out of the control of the Pakistani state.

Pakistan often criticizes the attacks as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to help the U.S. carry out the strikes. Criticism of the strikes has been more muted in recent months.