updated 8/21/2009 6:26:15 AM ET 2009-08-21T10:26:15

A missile fired from a suspected U.S. unmanned plane destroyed a suspected militant hide-out in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing at least nine people in a stronghold of a jihadi leader blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

The United States has launched more than 40 missile strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border since last year, reportedly killing several top commanders, but also civilians. Earlier this month, one such strike is believed by U.S. and Pakistani officials to have killed the Pakistani Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud.

The attack Friday was on a housing compound in the village of Dande Darpa Khel, near Miran Shah in North Waziristan, three intelligence officers said condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. They said several people were wounded.

Authorities stepped up security in the region following the attack and the officials said efforts were under way to get details about the victims.

Dande Darpa Khel and surrounding areas are strongholds of Afghan Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani whose network is powerful in eastern Afghanistan. He has a large Islamic school in the village that was hit by a U.S. missile in October 2008, killing about 20 people.

Siraj is the son of senior Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the fight against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, who American commanders now count as a dangerous foe. Haqqani is alleged to have close connections to al-Qaida and to have helped funnel foreign fighters into Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis have been linked to attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, both last year. Haqqani network operatives also plague U.S. forces in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province with ambushes and roadside bombs.

Stepped up missile attacks
Pakistan's border region is remote, mountainous and there is little government or military control there. Al-Qaida's top leadership, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the area.

The United States occasionally fired missiles into the region beginning in 2006, but dramatically stepped up the attacks last year.

The strikes have targeted militants behind surging attacks in Pakistan, those blamed for violence in Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists allegedly using the area to plot or train for terrorist attacks around the world.

The missiles are fired from CIA-operated drones believed to be launched from across the border in Afghanistan or from secret bases inside Pakistan. They are reported to be piloted by operatives inside the United States. U.S. officials rarely — if ever — acknowledge the airstrikes.

The Pakistani government publicly protests the attacks, which are unpopular among many in this Muslim country of 170 million people, many of whom see the United States and its allies as prosecuting an unjust war against co-religionists in Afghanistan.

Despite this, it is assumed to be cooperating with the strikes and providing intelligence on them.

The government says Washington should give the technology to Islamabad as its military is capable of using the drones.

More on: al-Qaida

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