US drones kill 10 militants in Pakistan

US drones fire missiles into a mountain hideout in Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border, killing 10 militants including al Qa'eda-linked suspects.

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US drones fired missiles into a mountain hideout in Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border today, killing 10 militants including al Qa'eda-linked suspects, officials said. The strike took place in the district of North Waziristan, a stronghold of Taliban and al Qa'eda-linked fighters and increasingly targeted by the covert US drone war since a suicide attack killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan.

The missiles hit a compound used by militants near Datta Khel village, 20 kilometres west of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, security officials said. The identity of the militants was unclear and it was not immediately known whether there were any high-value targets. "At least 10 militants, mostly foreigners, were killed," one Pakistani security official said, adopting a term used widely in Pakistan to refer to al Qa'eda-linked suspects.

"Five missiles were fired by US drones," he added. Three other security officials confirmed the missile strike and gave the same death toll, while a local intelligence official described the target as a mountain hideout for militants. Arabs were said to be among the dead. Residents said militants were guarding the compound and barred all access within three kilometres of the facility. US drone attacks routinely target Taliban and al Qa'eda commanders in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt, which Washington calls the global headquarters of al Qa'eda.

They have increasingly homed in on North Waziristan, which borders Khost province, where a Jordanian doctor turned al Qa'eda double agent blew himself up on December 30 in the deadliest attack on the US spy agency in 26 years. Drone strikes have killed a number of high-profile targets, including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and possibly his successor Hakimullah Mehsud, but the US raids fuel anti-American sentiment in Muslim Pakistan.

US officials say the strikes are a vital weapon in the war to defeat al Qa'eda and reverse the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, where Washington is leading a major troop surge this year in a bid to end the eight-year war. More than 830 people have been killed in more than 90 US strikes in Pakistan since August 2008, with a surge in the past year as President Barack Obama puts Pakistan at the heart of his fight against al Qa'eda.

Washington is pressuring Islamabad to do more to dismantle militant border sanctuaries, as it struggles to battle the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, where more than 121,000 US and Nato troops are based. Taliban and al Qa'eda-linked groups are blamed for a wave of suicide and bomb attacks that have killed more than 3,000 people across Pakistan since 2007. Pakistan's military claims to have made big gains against Taliban and al Qa'eda strongholds over the past year, following major offensives in the northwestern district of Swat and South Waziristan.

But last Friday, a twin suicide attack killed 57 people in the deadliest assault on Lahore and just days after a car bombing killed 15 in the same city. * AFP