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Three US drone strikes kill 11 militants in Pakistan

by Staff Writers
Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) Nov 3, 2010
At least 11 militants were killed in three US drone missile strikes targeting Islamist fighters in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt on Wednesday, security officials said.

Three militants were killed when a US drone fired two missiles at a car in Khaiso Khel town 25 kilometres (16 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in the lawless North Waziristan region, late Wednesday, three local security officials said.

Almost simultaneously another drone strike killed four militants in nearby Payi Khel town, they said -- hours after a similar attack killed four militants in a vehicle in the Qutub Khel suburb of Miranshah.

One security official said the vehicle hit in the earlier attack had been loaded with arms and ammunition.

"It detonated in the attack and the vehicle caught fire -- nobody can go near the vehicle," he said. A nearby house was damaged in the strike, officials said.

The region was also pounded by three missile strikes in a single day in early September, with 15 militants killed, according to local officials.

A covert US drone campaign in Pakistan has stepped up strikes in the tribal belt, as intelligence claims emerged last month of a Mumbai-style terror plot to launch commando attacks on European cities.

The United States considers Pakistan's tribal belt an Al-Qaeda headquarters and the most dangerous place on Earth.

Around 200 people have been killed in nearly 40 strikes since September 3, heightening tensions with Islamabad over reported US criticism of Pakistan's failure so far to launch a ground offensive in North Waziristan.

The drone campaign is seen as integral to US-led efforts to turn around a nine-year Taliban insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Although he did not specify bombing raids by unmanned aircraft, CIA chief Leon Panetta has been quoted as telling US media that the agency's expanding operations in Pakistan have taken "a serious toll" on Al-Qaeda.

Afghan and US officials allege that militants use rear bases in Pakistan to orchestrate attacks and that networks enjoy at least some measure of protection from the Pakistani intelligence services -- charges that Islamabad denies.

The war in Afghanistan is now at its deadliest, killing at least 616 foreign soldiers this year and thousands of civilians since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime.

Officials in Washington say drone strikes have killed a number of high-value targets, including the Pakistani Taliban's founding father Baitullah Mehsud.

But in Pakistan, anger over the attacks has fuelled reprisals from militant groups who have targeted NATO supply convoys destined for Afghanistan.

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