Suspected U.S. missiles killed two alleged militants early Thursday in a northwest Pakistan tribal region, intelligence officials said, while Pakistani soldiers battled Taliban fighters in a neighboring stretch along the Afghan border.
The attack indicated the U.S. will not sideline a favorite battle tactic against Islamist extremists despite Pakistani concerns that the missile strikes will anger insurgents who have agreed to stay neutral as the army wages an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan.
The drone-fired missiles hit a house in Naurak village in the North Waziristan tribal area overnight, the two officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.
However, local tribesman Inayat Wazir told The Associated Press on the phone that the house was empty and no one had died. It was not immediately possible to independently verify either claim due to the dangerous nature of the region.
The area struck is believed to be under the control of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a warlord involved in fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan's military has struck a deal with Bahadur — saying they would leave him alone as long as he stayed out of their way as they fight the Pakistani Taliban, the network the government blames for most of the suicide bombings in the country, in South Waziristan.
Pakistani military officials could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, but in the past, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas has said the country would prefer there be no outside interference as it takes on the militants.
The truth is difficult to divine. The Americans rarely discuss the missile strikes. And although the Pakistanis publicly condemn them as violations of their sovereignty, many analysts believe the two countries have a deal allowing them.
A CIA missile strike killed the Pakistani Taliban's former leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in August just as Pakistan's military was using airstrikes to soften up targets ahead of a ground offensive, and local intelligence officials later confirmed they had aided the U.S. in tracking down the target.
The ground offensive launched in mid-October, and the army already says it has killed hundreds of insurgents.
The military said Wednesday that soldiers were fighting street by street through the mountainous town of Ladha, one of three main Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan. Over the previous day, the fighting left 10 militants dead in Ladha and 30 dead across the region, it said. Eight soldiers have been injured.
The army already has taken control of much of another key town, Sararogha, and is expected to launch an attack soon on Makeen, which the authorities have called the "nerve center" of the Pakistani Taliban.
"It's going fast," Abbas said Wednesday, declining to give a time frame for when the fighting would end. "It depends — it's a lot of remote areas."
A Taliban spokesman told The Associated Press earlier this week that they had lost fewer than a dozen fighters and that their withdrawals were strategic plans to pull government fighters deeper into militant territory.
Figuring out the reality in South Waziristan is nearly impossible. The government only allows journalists into the battle zone on carefully orchestrated trips.