Missiles fired by a suspected US drone in Pakistan’s North Waziristan province, near the border with Afghanistan, have reportedly killed at least 35 Taliban fighters, officials have said.
The drone fired two missiles in quick succession at a residential compound on Thursday, where a group of some three dozen alleged Taliban fighters were meeting, Pakistani intelligence officials told the Associated Press.
The strikes occurred three minutes apart and took place in the Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal region – the main sanctuary for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Afghan border.
“Militants were using this house as a training centre and used to meet here,” a security official in Peshawar told the AFP news agency.
He said 10 other fighters were critically injured.
US drones have frequently targeted Datta Khel, known as a stronghold of the Taliban commander and al-Qaeda-linked warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who has focused his efforts on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.
General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, strongly condemned the strikes, the military said.
“Chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, strongly condemns the Predator [drone] strike carried out today in North Waziristan resulting into loss of innocent lives,” the military said in a statement.
“It is highly regrettable that a jirga [council] of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.
Missile attacks – believed to be carried out by unmanned drone aircraft launched either from Afghanistan or from inside Pakistan – have doubled in the area last year.
There were more than 100 drone strikes, killing over 670 people in 2010, compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.
There have been around 20 attacks so far this year. Most of the recent strikes have been in North Waziristan.
Washington does not acknowledge firing the missiles and reporters are barred from visiting the area, making it difficult to verify who is being killed.
Pakistani leaders formally protest the strikes, but its intelligence agencies are widely believed to co-operate in some of them.