Suspected U.S. missile strikes pounded the hide-outs of a Taliban commander in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least eight people, government officials said.
Shahab Ali Shah, the top administrative official in the South Waziristan tribal area along the Afghanistan border, said the missiles hit close to the villages of Gharlamai and Nandaran, about six miles west of the Wana bazaar area. He said the death toll could rise as villagers dig through the rubble.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media, said a training center of Taliban commander Malang Wazir between the two villages was the target and that nine people were killed.
Two other intelligence officials, also speaking to The AP on condition of anonymity, said four missiles were fired at two sites. They put the casualties at eight dead and about two dozen wounded.
Ali Khan Wazir, a shopkeeper, said drone aircraft had been flying over the area for hours before the explosions. He said Taliban vehicles were seen rushing to the scenes.
U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday after nearly a one-month lull. The strikes have generated a backlash over civilian casualties.
Wednesday's strikes come as the Pakistani military has started pounding militant targets in the area with airstrikes. The highly anticipated operation is seen as a potential turning point in the yearslong and sometimes halfhearted fight against militancy in Pakistan. It could also help curb Taliban attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.
But while Washington has been pushing for the offensive, on the heels of a similar operation in the Swat Valley, fighting in the lawless tribal region will likely be the toughest yet for Pakistan's military, testing both its combat capability and the government's will to see it through.
The Swat offensive has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks by militants across Pakistan that have been blamed on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose base is in South Waziristan.
More than 100 people have died since late May in suicide bombings on targets including police and security buildings, mosques and a hotel catering to foreigners. The attacks have fueled anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan that in turn has emboldened the politically weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari.