At least eight militants were killed Sunday in a suspected US missile strike which destroyed a Taliban hide-out in northwest Pakistan, security officials said.
Top US military and defence officials refused to confirm or deny the attack, but said Washington was determined to counter militants operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
“Two missiles fired by a suspected US drone hit a compound in Sararogha, in tribal South Waziristan region, killing at least eight suspected militants,” a Pakistani official told AFP.
“It was a Taliban sanctuary, which was destroyed in the attack,” another security official said.
“Some foreigners were possibly among those killed in the attack,” he said.
The compound, which had underground bunkers, was in an area controlled by militant commander Baitullah Mehsud’s tribe, he said. South Waziristan is a known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
Mehsud heads the feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and is Pakistan’s most wanted militant, accused of plotting the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
US Admiral Mike Mullen told American TV he would not discuss specific operations, but said the militants’ “safe haven” in Pakistan was being “addressed.”
“There is a continuing concern with the existence of the safe haven in Pakistan, and that has to be addressed, has been addressed and needs to continue to be addressed,” Mullen said.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also declined to discuss the latest strikes.
“I think as long as they have a safe haven to operate there — it’s going to be a problem for us,” Gates said.
This was the fourth missile strike blamed on unmanned US aircraft since President Barack Obama came to power, dashing Pakistani hopes that the new administration would abandon the policy.
More than two dozen similar attacks have been carried out since August 2008, killing more than 200 people, most of them militants.
Among the most recent incidents, a strike on February 16 destroyed an Afghan Taliban camp in Pakistan’s northwest Kurram area, killing 26, two days after at least 27 militants died in a separate assault on one of Mehsud’s camps.
In January, a US drone attack killed the head of Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan, Kenyan national Usama al-Kini, and his lieutenant Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan in South Waziristan.
Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led “war against terror” but the strikes have fuelled anti-American sentiment in the country, particularly in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
US and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on the militants, who cross the border to attack US and NATO troops.
Pakistan rejects the accusation, pointing out that more than 1,500 Pakistani troops have died at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2002.
The lawless tribal areas have been wracked by violence since Afghanistan’s Taliban regime was toppled by a US-led invasion in late 2001, prompting hundreds of fighters to flood the region.