Missiles fired from suspected US drones on Friday slammed into presumed militant dens in Pakistan killing 15 people, including three children and at least four civilians, officials said.
The strikes, which pulverised two houses in the northwest tribal belt, were the first since US President Barack Obama took office and one day after he appointed a brand new special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Dozens of similar strikes since August have sparked government criticism of the United States, a close ally fighting the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and believed to be firing the missiles from unmanned CIA aircraft.
Two separate incidents
Eight people died when missiles fired from an unmanned surveillance plane slammed into a fortress-like militant compound near Mir Ali, a notorious Al-Qaeda hub in Pakistan\’s North Waziristan, security officials said.
Hours later another suspected US drone fired two missiles into a house in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, killing seven people.
A senior security official told AFP three children were among the dead.
Local officials said 45-year-old tribesman Din Faraz, who owned the house, a two-year-old and two other children of school age, a cousin and another relative of Faraz were killed when the house was reduced to rubble.
“All those killed were ordinary tribesmen and not involved in militancy,” the officials said in Wana, not far from the Afghan border.
The town, a known Taliban and Al Qaeda hub, is also the main stomping ground of Maulvi Nazir, a key Taliban commander accused by the United States of recruiting and sending fighters to Afghanistan to attack US and NATO forces.
Soon after the blast, electricity went down and the area was plunged into darkness, as Taliban militants sealed off the attack site, officials said.
The first missile strike killed five foreign militants just outside Mir Ali, in North Waziristan at 5:10 pm (1210 GMT), a security official told AFP.
“A militant den was successfully destroyed. At least five foreign Al-Qaeda militants were killed and three locals but there was no immediate confirmation of any high value target,” a security official said.
The house belonged to tribesman and Taliban sympathiser Khalil Dawar. The identities of the three dead locals were not immediately known.
The strikes came after Obama said extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where US troops are fighting the Taliban, posed a grave threat that his administration would tackle as a single problem under a wider strategy.
Drone strikes denied
Pakistan has repeatedly protested to Washington that drone strikes violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the 160 million people of the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.
President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani were quoted as telling top US General David Petraeus in Islamabad on Tuesday, that they hoped the Obama administration would take their concerns into consideration.
The US military as a rule does not confirm drone attacks but it and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy drones in the region.
“As you know I am not going to comment on those matters,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters despite being repeatedly pressed to discuss the reports.
US and Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on militants, who cross the border to attack US and NATO troops.
Pakistan rejects those accusations and more than 1,500 Pakistani troops have been killed at the hands of Islamist extremists since 2002, after the government joined the so-called war on terror.