By Hasbanullah Khan (AFP) – Feb 2, 2010
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan — At least 16 militants were killed on Tuesday after US drones fired numerous missiles at a village in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials said.
The strike, which officials said involved 18 missiles fired from eight of the unmanned planes, is the latest in a series of US attacks on the lawless tribal area, which Washington calls the most dangerous place on earth.
It is a known stronghold of homegrown Islamist militant groups and extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
"Up to eight US drones fired some 18 missiles at multiple militant targets in Dattakhel village," a senior security official told AFP.
"At least 16 militants were killed in the missile strikes," the official said, after earlier putting the death toll at ten.
Local administration and intelligence officials confirmed the deaths after the volley of strikes reportedly struck militant hideouts and a training centre in three places in the village.
Residents of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal district, said they saw the drones flying overhead and heard the explosions from Dattakhel, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the town.
Drone bombings have soared recently as US President Barack Obama puts Pakistan at the heart of his administration's fight against Al-Qaeda and Islamist extremists.
The Pakistani government publicly condemns the strikes but US officials say they are necessary to protect foreign soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and have killed a number of high-value extremists.
Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is said to be a prime target of the drone strikes but he has dispelled rumours of his death in apparent audio recordings, also vowing revenge for the drone programme.
His predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike last August.
Washington is also pressing Islamabad to tackle militants in the northwest who use Pakistan soil to launch attacks in Afghanistan, where about 113,000 troops under US and NATO command are battling a Taliban-led insurgency.
Earlier Tuesday a Pakistani military commander said a new air and ground offensive had killed up to 80 militants in the northern extremity of the semi-autonomous tribal belt.
The paramilitary Frontier Corps stepped up an offensive targeting Taliban havens in Bajaur district after a suicide bombing killed 17 people at a military checkpoint on Saturday.
The raids were concentrated around Mamoond, about 12 kilometres (eight miles) northwest of Khar, a notorious Taliban hideout which Pakistan failed to clear in past offensives against militant havens.
"When we started the operation, it was estimated that there were about 1,000 militants present in the area and 80 of them have been killed so far," Colonel Rana Munnawar told reporters in the village of Sawai.
There was no independent confirmation of the toll.
Pakistan first launched operations in the district in August 2008 and has claimed several times to have eliminated the Islamist militant threat there.
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