A US Predator unmanned drone armed with a missile stands on the tarmac of Kandahar military airport, in 2010. A US drone launched a missile attack on a militant compound in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border early Friday, killing four insurgents, according to security officials.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
MIRAMSHAH: A US drone launched a missile attack on a militant compound in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border early Friday, killing four insurgents, security officials said.
The missiles targeted a house in a market area of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, known as a stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants, they said.
"Two missiles hit a house and four militants were killed," a security official told AFP. "The attack took place at about 3:00 am," he said.
Witnesses said the attack triggered a fire which destroyed the building. The compound is located in the money changers market in the Miranshah commercial district.
An intelligence official also put the toll at four dead and said two people were wounded. He said local people, including Pakistani Taliban, were engaged in rescue work.
Waziristan is the most notorious stronghold of militants in Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt that Washington considers the premier hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.
Pakistan wants drone strikes to stop, arguing that they are counter-productive because they kill civilians, exacerbate anti-US sentiment and violate sovereignty.
The frequency of such attacks has diminished in recent months, but US officials are believed to consider them too useful in terms of killing Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives to discontinue them altogether.
Pakistan called Thursday for open dialogue with the United States even before parliament wraps up a protracted debate on repairing an anti-terror alliance that nearly ruptured over a series of crises.
US President Barack Obama and Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met Tuesday at a nuclear summit in Seoul for talks that an Obama aide said "made important progress" in both sides hearing from one another.
On Wednesday, the top US generals overseeing the Afghan war, John Allen and James Mattis, also met Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Kayani for the first time since US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November.
Those strikes prompted a furious Islamabad to shut NATO supply lines into Afghanistan and evict US personnel from an airbase reportedly used as a hub in America's drone war against militants.
Despite this week's talks, no date has been announced for Pakistan to re-open the Afghan crossings to NATO supplies and officials admit privately that the process may take longer than initially thought.
Pakistani lawmakers on March 20 demanded an American apology for the November air strikes, an end to US drone strikes and taxes on NATO convoys, but debate on the package has been slow to start and is now likely to be more protracted than once thought.
The New York Times reported last weekend that the US military had decided no service members would face disciplinary charges for the air strikes, which a Pentagon investigation blamed on mistakes made by both sides.
President Obama in January confirmed for the first time that US drones target militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.
According to an AFP tally, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal belt in 2009, the year Obama took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
The New America Foundation think-tank in Washington says drone strikes have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in Pakistan in the past eight years.