Suspected US missiles kill 3 in NW Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban compound in a northwest Pakistani militant stronghold bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, killing three people, officials said.

The blasts came a day after a suicide car bomber killed 27 people — most of them security forces — elsewhere in the northwest. A senior Taliban leader claimed responsibility for that attack, and promised more if the U.S. kept up its missile strikes in the region.

Shahab Ali Shah, the top administrative official from South Waziristan tribal region, said five people also were wounded in Sunday's strike in the Zari Noor village area. The identities of the dead and wounded were not immediately clear.

An intelligence official confirmed the assessment that missiles were involved. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

South Waziristan is the main stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed allied with al-Qaida.

Since August, the U.S. has escalated its use of drone-fired missile strikes along Pakistan's lawless northwest regions, where al-Qaida and the Taliban are believed to have hideouts from which to plan attacks on American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan is a favorite target of the missiles.

The pro-Western Pakistani government has demanded an end to the strikes, saying that although they have killed several militant leaders, they also fan anti-American sentiment and violate the country's sovereignty.

Haji Gul Zaman, who lives just outside Zar Noor village, said he heard two blasts Sunday and saw plumes of smoke rising from the area. Trucks carrying Taliban fighters raced toward the scene, said Zaman. Shah said the strike also damaged several vehicles.

The suicide attack Saturday damaged about a dozen army trucks and jeeps as well as a police station at the checkpoint near the town of Hangu, said Farid Khan, a senior police official.

At least 25 members of the security forces and two civilians died, Khan told The Associated Press by phone from a hospital near the scene. Another 62 security personnel and three civilians were wounded, including the local police chief, other officials said.

The attack was claimed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander who vowed earlier this month to carry out two suicide attacks a week to press for the withdrawal of Pakistan troops from the border region and for an end to the missile strikes.

"We are meeting our pledge. ... We will intensify our attacks if the drone strikes in the tribal areas do not stop," Mehsud told AP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Pakistan is under intense international pressure to crack down on an increasingly integrated array of Islamist extremist groups operating on its soil.

Donors including the U.S, Japan and Saudi Arabia on Friday pledged more than $5 billion to shore up Pakistan's shaky economy and pay for schemes to alleviate poverty and bolster its security forces — twin tracks in a longer-term drive to dry up support for extremism.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Habib Khan in Khar contributed to this report.
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