Pakistan said Thursday it was not warned about a suspected U.S. missile strike in its northwest that came the same day a top American official assured Pakistani leaders of U.S. respect for the Muslim nation's sovereignty.
The reported attack will likely fuel anger in Pakistan over a surge in cross-border operations by U.S. forces — including a Sept. 3 ground assault — that has strained the countries' seven-year anti-terror alliance.
While denying prior knowledge of Wednesday's reported strike, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi indicated Pakistan's civilian leadership wants to defuse tensions through diplomacy, including during upcoming talks in the United States.
The suspected strike came as the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, was in Pakistan visiting the prime minister, the army chief and other officials.
The U.S. Embassy said Mullen "reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries."
Qureshi, who was among those who met with Mullen, told reporters that Pakistani officials "were not informed" of the suspected strike later Wednesday. Asked about Mullen's statement, Qureshi said, "it's a clear, clear commitment to Pakistan to respect Pakistan's sovereignty."
"And now if having said that there was an attack later in the night, that means there is some sort of an institutional disconnect on their side, and if so, they will have to sort it out," he said.
Two intelligence officials told The Associated Press that the Wednesday missile strike targeted a compound in South Waziristan used by Taliban militants and Hezb-i-Islami, another group involved in escalating attacks in Afghanistan.
One of the officials said an unmanned drone of the type used by the CIA and U.S. forces in Afghanistan was heard in the area.
They said informants reported six people had died and three others were wounded. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos declined to comment Thursday, in line with usual U.S. avoidance of discussions of alleged missile strikes.
Washington has long been concerned about Taliban and al-Qaida militants' use of Pakistan's lawless tribal regions near the Afghan border as bases from which to plan attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A spate of alleged missile strikes, as well as the ground assault, signal American impatience with Pakistani progress in clearing out such sanctuaries.
Pakistan insists it is doing all it can, suffering heavy military losses as a result, and that unilateral attacks will simply deepen tribal sympathy for militants.
Earlier this month, Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a strong public rebuke to the U.S., saying Pakistan's territorial integrity "will be defended at all cost" and denying there was any agreement for U.S. forces to operate there. The army also has said Pakistani troops have orders to fire on intruding forces following the Sept. 3 attack.
Some analysts said it was unlikely Pakistan would risk the huge sums it receives in American aid by targeting U.S. soldiers or aircraft.
Qureshi on Thursday asked Pakistanis to avoid issuing "emotional statements" about cross-border attacks and said he planned to give a "very honest and frank assessment of what we are gaining and what we are losing by such actions" in upcoming talks with U.S. officials.
"Our stance is that we should cooperate with each other, and such incursions cannot improve the atmosphere, and rather they will deteriorate it, and will be counterproductive," he said.
He also said that Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, would lead a delegation to the United Nations later this month and will meet American leaders on the sidelines.
In violence Thursday, police said two suicide bombers blew themselves up to keep police from entering a school where dozens of militants were holding some 300 children hostage. No one was killed besides the suicide bombers.
The attack occurred at a boys school in a remote village in Upper Dir in Pakistan's northwest, said police officer Akbar Ali. Villagers and police traded fire with the militants before police reclaimed the building.