Suspected U.S. strike kills 13 in Pakistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

A suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least 13 people Friday in a Pakistani village close to the Afghan border, security officials said, the latest in a surge of attacks that a top American general said has eliminated three militant leaders.

The strikes are likely to trigger fresh anger from Pakistan's civil and military leaders, who say the U.S. attacks undercut support for the government's anti-terror efforts, and from many of the country's 170 million people.

The suspected cross-border attack took place in Kam Sam village in the North Waziristan region, a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaida militants blamed for attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and rising violence within Pakistan.

A Pakistani intelligence official said an agent who visited the village reported that 13 suspected militants had died.

The official said the targeted house belonged to a local Taliban commander and that authorities were still trying to determine the identities of those killed.

A government representative in the region also put the toll at 13.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

At least 18 strikes since August
Unmanned U.S. aircraft are believed to have carried out at least 18 missile strikes since August in Pakistan's wild border area, considered a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

Friday's attack was the first since the installation of Gen. David Petraeus as head of the U.S. Central Command on Oct. 31, giving him overall command of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the first since Barack Obama won America's presidential election.

Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview in Afghanistan on Thursday that the strikes had killed three "extremist leaders" in recent months.

Petraeus did not identify the trio.

U.S.-Pakistani tensions
Pakistani leaders, mindful of public hostility to the U.S. missile strikes, said they told Petraeus to halt the attacks when he visited the country earlier this week. He said he would "take on board" what they said, but made no promises that they would stop.

U.S. officials have been frustrated at what they say is insufficient Pakistani action against extremists in the border area, a mountainous zone where the government has never had much control.

The Pakistan army is embroiled in an offensive against militants in Bajur, a tribal region along the border, and is trying to persuade local tribes to join the fight — a task it says is made more difficult by the anger generated by U.S. attacks.

Pakistani helicopters and jets killed 17 suspected militants and wounded 10 others in Bajur late Thursday, said Jamil Khan, the No. 2 government representative in the semiautonomous area.

Suicide attacks
Hours earlier, two suicide attacks targeting pro-government tribesmen and security forces killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more.

One of them struck in Bajur, killing 17 pro-government Salarzai tribesmen who had formed a militia to combat insurgents. Forty other people were hurt, officials said.

In the nearby Swat Valley, a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint near a police compound, killing at least two paramilitary troops and wounding 20 other people, officials said.

Meanwhile, authorities exchanged three captured Taliban militants — including a deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud — for 10 military personnel held by the insurgents.

Haji Afzal Khan, the mayor in northwestern Hangu district, said that the prisoners were swapped Wednesday and that Mehsud's freed deputy, Rafiuddin, had assured authorities he would help in peace efforts there.

Rafiuddin was captured in July, while the soldiers were seized later the same month. The government has made similar prisoner exchanges in the region in the past.