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Pakistan: U.S. Drones Suspected Of Killing At Least 16 Alleged Militants

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PAKISTAN US DRONES
Supporters of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan rally to condemn U.S. drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas on al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Oct 28, 2011. The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly. (AP) | AP

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — U.S. drones fired missiles at two compounds in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border, killing 16 alleged militants in the second such attack in the region in less than 24 hours, Pakistani intelligence officials said Wednesday.

Bombings and clashes elsewhere killed at least 26 other people, including three suspected insurgents and a police officer who died when a car blew up late Wednesday in the country's largest city of Karachi.

The drone strikes came just before midnight Tuesday in Bobar village in the South Waziristan tribal area, a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The two compounds were hit about 20 minutes apart, the officials said. It was unclear how many suspected militants were killed in each place.

Pakistani officials have criticized drone strikes as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to have supported the strikes in the past and even let the drones take off from bases inside Pakistan.

Pakistani criticism has been more muted when the attacks target members of the Pakistani Taliban or al-Qaida, rather than Afghan militants with whom the government has historical ties. Many analysts believe Pakistan sees the Afghan Taliban and their allies as potential partners in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

The Pakistani military conducted a large ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan in 2009, but militants remain in the area and periodic attacks still occur. The area where the drones struck is very remote and has not yet been cleared by the military, said the intelligence officials. There has been at least one strike in this area before.

The U.S. does not acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

The Obama administration has ramped up the number of drone strikes in Pakistan's rugged tribal region in the past few years. A strike earlier Tuesday in North Waziristan killed seven militants, officials said.

Most of the missiles have targeted al-Qaida militants or Afghan Taliban insurgents battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The attacks have also killed Pakistani Taliban fighters, who are allied with Afghan militants but have focused their attacks inside Pakistan. A U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.

The bomb in Karachi was inside a vehicle that exploded at a police checkpoint close to that city's beachfront, said provincial interior minister Manzoor Wasan. Three suspected militants were killed, along with one police officer, were killed, he said.

Karachi, the country's commercial hub, is far from militant strongholds in the northwest, but has been hit by bombings over the last five years.

Earlier, a roadside bomb hit a minibus in the northwestern Tirah valley, killing six passengers and wounding two others, local government administrator Syed Ahmed Jan said. It was not clear who was behind the bombing. Tirah is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Also Wednesday, militants attacked a military checkpoint in the Murghan area of the Kurram tribal region, killing one officer and wounding a soldier, said Wajid Khan, a local government official. The military killed 15 militants in a retaliatory offensive, he said.

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Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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