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US drone strike kills 17 in Pakistan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A US drone attack struck a compound of the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt early Wednesday, killing at least 17 militants, Pakistani officials said.

Security officials told AFP that Afghan and Pakistani militants were among the dead at the compound in the town of Miranshah, but that there was no immediate confirmation of any high-value target.

Unmanned aircraft fired four missiles into the compound in the main market area of the main town of North Waziristan district, Pakistan's most notorious hub of Islamist militants.

US drone strikes are rarely reported in built-up areas of the semi-autonomous tribal belt and officials said the aircraft flew over the market area for hours before striking.

"The death toll in drone strike has risen to 17," a security official based in North Waziristan told AFP.

Intelligence officials confirmed the toll and said the compound belonged to militants from the Haqqani network, which the United States has blamed for some of the deadliest and most high-profile attacks on Western and government targets in Afghanistan.

It was the deadliest US drone strike reported in Pakistan since 18 insurgents were killed on the border between North Waziristan and the tribal district of Orakzai on October 11, 2012.

Pakistan on Wednesday condemned the drone strike as a violation of sovereignty, as it does routinely despite leaked US diplomatic cables that showed leaders allegedly agreed to them in private.

"The government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Washington views drone strikes as a vital tool in the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants holed up in the lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

But there has been a marked decline in the number of drone strikes reported in Pakistan in the last two years.

According to an AFP tally, 14 reported strikes have killed around 90 people so far this year, compared to 101 in 2010 that killed more than 670 people.

Wednesday's attack came as the BBC broadcast an interview with the Afghan army chief of staff in which he claimed US drone strikes are "never used against Haqqani or Afghan Taliban".

General Sher Mohammad Karimi alleged Pakistan could end the nearly 12-year Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan "in weeks" if it were serious about peace.

The interview laid bare the mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad as the US-led NATO combat mission prepares to leave Afghanistan next year and the West pushes for peace talks with the Taliban.

Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism says drone attacks in Pakistan have killed up to 3,549 people since 2004 including up to 890 civilians.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130703/us-drone-strike-kills-17-pakistan-1