Suspected US drones fired missiles at a vehicle and a house in north west Pakistan today, killing 12 people in a rare attack in an area where some of Nato’s fiercest enemies have reportedly travelled, Pakistani officials said.
The first attack in the Kurram tribal area hit a vehicle, killing five people, said Noor Alam, a local government official. As tribesmen rushed to the scene, the vehicle was struck again, killing two more people, he said.
Minutes later, a suspected US drone attacked a nearby house, killing five people, Mr Alam said.
Seven of the 12 people killed in the attacks were Afghan militants whose bodies were taken across the border to be buried, Mr Alam said. The attacks were confirmed by two Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up covert CIA drone attacks against militants in Pakistan, but there have only been a handful of strikes by the missile-firing pilotless planes in the Kurram tribal area. The latest strikes could indicate an expansion of the programme.
Most of the recent drone strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, an important sanctuary for the Haqqani network, which US military officials have said is the most dangerous militant group battling foreign forces in Afghanistan.
The US has repeatedly asked Pakistan to launch an offensive against the network in North Waziristan, but the military has said that its forces are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal areas.
Local tribesmen said late last year that the Haqqani network cut a deal with Shiite Muslim militias in Kurram to allow the militants to cross through the area on their way to fighting in Afghanistan. The route would help them avoid the drone attacks that have rained down on North Waziristan.
Drone attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan and have generated tension between Washington and Islamabad, which increased after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month and humiliated the Pakistani government.