ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – Fourteen people were killed in the northwestern Pakistani region of North Waziristan on Friday in a missile attack by a pilotless U.S. aircraft on suspected militants near the Afghan border, security officials said.
The strike, near the town of Miranshah, was the first since a recent surge in tension between Pakistan and the United States over how to tackle the Taliban and al Qaeda on the Pakistani side of the border.
“We confirm a missile attack at around 5.30 in the morning (2330 GMT on Thursday) … We have informed the government,” said military spokesman Major Murad Khan.
The military, apparently reluctant to highlight infringements of sovereignty, has rarely confirmed such attacks.
Khan gave no more details but security officials in the region said 14 people had been killed and about 12 wounded.
Residents said two missiles were fired at a former government school where militants and their families were living.
An intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan has raised fears about its prospects seven years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban. That worry has compounded pressure on Pakistan to go after militants operating from enclaves on its side of the border, including in North Waziristan.
Security forces stepped up offensives in two areas in August, the Bajaur region on the Afghan border and the Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting including 100 militants in Bajaur on Thursday, the military said.
Hours after Friday’s missile strike, a roadside bomb hit a security convoy in a nearby village, seriously wounding two soldiers. Soldiers in the convoy opened fire after the blast, wounding four civilians, residents said.
Fears about Afghanistan’s future and frustration with Pakistani efforts to tackle the militants have led to more U.S. missile attacks by drone aircraft in Pakistan.
About a dozen strikes this year have killed scores of militants and some civilians. But in addition to missile strikes, helicopter-borne U.S. commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last week, the first known incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
Pakistan condemned the raid in which officials said 20 people, including women and children, were killed.
The U.S. military raised fears of more incursions on Wednesday, saying it was not winning in Afghanistan and would revise its strategy to combat militant havens in Pakistan.
Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said in a strongly worded statement that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all cost. Kayani also dismissed speculation of a secret deal allowing U.S. forces to attack.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that President George W. Bush had secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allowed U.S. special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Islamabad government.
U.S. officials declined to comment on the report and Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador Husain Haqqani told Reuters Bush had issued no new orders.
Kayani ended a meeting with his top commanders on Friday saying the military, under government leadership, would protect Pakistan’s territory and there was “complete unanimity of views between the government and the army” on the issue.
Tension with the United States has added to the worries of investors who have seen Pakistan’s financial markets battered by political turmoil and economic problems.
At the same time, Pakistan is highly vulnerable to any reduction in U.S. financial support, given the depletion of its foreign reserves, which has sparked talk it could default on a sovereign bond next year unless it gets foreign financing.