MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) — A suspected US missile strike killed 13 people including alleged Al-Qaeda militants in a Pakistan extremist stronghold on the Afghan border Saturday, security officials said.
The strike hit Datta Khel, a small town in the semi-autonomous tribal area of North Waziristan, a known hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, at around 3:00am (2200 GMT Friday).
"Two missiles were fired from a US drone at the compound of a local tribesman, killing 13 people," a security official told AFP.
Initial information said no high-value targets had been killed.
"The death toll is 13, including some foreigners, but information is very sketchy because it's a town which is very remote," another security official said on condition of anonymity.
Pakistani officials use the word "foreigner" to refer to suspected Al-Qaeda fighters, but the precise identities of the dead were not confirmed.
One security official said that only four of the 13 dead were militants, but another said 10 militants died. The identities of the others were unclear.
A local official said the compound that was hit belonged to Tariq Khan, a local Wazir tribesman described as a "facilitator of Taliban".
Taliban sealed off the area while they retrieved the bodies from the site, around five kilometres (three miles) from the Afghan border.
"We saw some bodies and pieces of human flesh lying near the compound," a local resident told AFP, requesting anonymity.
"The Taliban removed most of the bodies when we reached the site," the witness said, adding that the targeted compound was completely destroyed.
A security official said the missiles blasted an ammunition store, causing a large explosion and damaging nearby houses.
The area is under the control of Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander believed to also be right-hand man of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has a five-million-dollar US bounty on his head and whose network has been linked to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Last month Bahadur joined a council of mujahedeen, or shura, which Pakistan's top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud said he had established to fight American troops in Afghanistan.
Mehsud claimed responsibility for a deadly assault on a police academy in Pakistan last Monday that he said was in retaliation for missile attacks.
More than 35 missile strikes have killed over 350 people since August 2008, fanning hostility against the United States and the government in Pakistan, where more than 1,700 people have died in extremist bombings in two years.
The US military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, but its armed forces and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy drones in the region.
Saturday's attack was the second since US President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping new strategy to defeat Islamist militants in south Asia, putting Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda.
Speaking in London on Thursday, Obama reiterated that he was "very concerned" about extremists in the border regions of nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Pakistan has protested that the strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among its 160 million people.
The foreign ministry has said it will take up the issue of missile attacks during a visit by Washington's Afghanistan and Pakistan troubleshooter Richard Holbrooke when he visits Islamabad next week.
The lawless tribal areas of northwest Pakistan have been beset by violence since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters sought refuge there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime in late 2001.
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