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6 die in suspected US missile strike in Pakistan

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6 die in suspected US missile strike in Pakistan

Pakistan troops enter in after taking over Koza Bandi from militants in Swat district in Pakistan on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. Security forces, backed by air support, pounded suspected militant hide-outs in a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan's northwest, killing eight alleged insurgents Tuesday, an official said.

    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Air-fired missiles hit a militant compound near the Afghan border and killed at least six people Wednesday evening, officials said, soon after a senior American officer met with government leaders to discuss the furor over U.S. attacks inside Pakistan.
    The airstrike was likely to further fan anger among Pakistanis over a surge in cross-border operations by U.S. forces that have strained the two countries’ seven-year alliance against terrorist groups.
    Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that several missiles hit a compound in the South Waziristan tribal area that has been used by Taliban militants and Hezb-i-Islami, another extremist group involved in escalating attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
    One official said a pilot-less drone of the type used by the CIA and U.S. military forces in Afghanistan was heard in the area before the attack. Both said informants in the area reported six people killed and three wounded, but their identities were not immediately clear.
    The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
    Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he had no reports of any attack into Pakistan. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could not be reached immediately. The White House declined to comment on the report.
    Hours earlier, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met separately with Pakistan’s prime minister and the army chief, both of whom have voiced strong protests to attacks on suspected militants havens in the country’s restless northwest.
    According to a U.S. Embassy statement, Mullen ‘‘reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries.’’
    President Bush made a similar statement about Pakistan’s sovereignty in July after meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Washington.
    Since then, suspected U.S. missile attacks inside Pakistan have intensified, and U.S. commandos staged a helicopter-borne ground assault in a South Waziristan village Sept. 3.
    American officials complain Pakistan has not done enough to keep militant groups from using the tribal belt as a base to stage attacks in Afghanistan. The tribal areas are semiautonomous regions where the Pakistani government has traditionally had limited influence.
    ‘‘The Pakistani government has to take control on its side of the border and we are working in a variety of ways to help the Pakistani government build its capabilities,’’ Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.
    Pakistan acknowledges extremist groups and al-Qaida fugitives are in its frontier region and concedes it is difficult to prevent militants from slipping into Afghanistan.
    But it insists it is doing its best to flush out militants and paying a heavy price. It points to the deployment of 120,000 soldiers in the northwest, heavy losses by security forces, and recent military offensives that have drawn a wave of retaliatory suicide attacks by the Taliban.
    One such offensive, against insurgents in the Bajur border region, has garnered U.S. praise amid signs it is helping reduce violence on the Afghan side of the border.
    On Wednesday, Pakistani troops backed by jet fighters killed at least 19 suspected insurgents there, officials said. The army says more than 700 suspected militants and 40 soldiers have died in six weeks of fighting. It declines to estimate civilian casualties.
    But the U.S. ground attack and missile strikes from drones have embarrassed Pakistan’s government and military, threatening to intensify anti-American sentiment. Many Pakistanis say the country is being made a scapegoat for Western failures in Afghanistan and contend the cross-border attacks only fuel militancy.
    The army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a strong public rebuke to the U.S. last week, insisting Pakistan’s territorial integrity ‘‘will be defended at all cost’’ and denying there was any agreement for U.S. forces to operate there.
    Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman, told the AP on Tuesday that Pakistani commanders had received orders to fire on any intruding forces following the Sept. 3 cross-border raid.
    Some analysts said it was unlikely Pakistan would risk losing billions in American aid by targeting U.S. soldiers or aircraft. Civilian leaders have stressed that they must solve the issue through diplomacy.
    ‘‘We cannot pick up guns and say that ’here we are coming,’’’ Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn News television Wednesday. ‘‘I don’t want to say anything which can jeopardize this relationship we have with the Americans on the issue of terrorism.’’
    He said President Asif Ali Zardari would take up the issue during an upcoming trip to Washington.
    Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Paul Ames in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

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