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US missile strikes kill dozens of militants

SUSPECTED United States drones launched two missile attacks on Taliban targets in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan yesterday, killing at least 45 militants in the latest barrage of strikes close to the Afghan border, intelligence officials said.

The army said the top Taliban commander in another area of the northwest, the scenic Swat Valley, was wounded in a Pakistani airstrike. It gave no more details.

South Waziristan lies close to the Afghan border and is the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Pakistan's military is also bombing and firing mortars at insurgent targets in the region, saying it is chipping away at Mehsud's resistance before launching a ground offensive there to eliminate him. Mehsud is blamed for many of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Pakistan in recent years.

The first strike took place before dawn. A suspected US drone fired six missiles at a mountaintop training camp in the Karwan Manza area of South Waziristan, killing 10 militants, the intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

The nationalities and identities of the slain men were not known.

Hours later, 20 kilometers to the east, missiles believed fired from a US drone hit four vehicles carrying Taliban militants, killing at least 35, including a key Taliban commander, one intelligence official said. He did not disclose the commander's identity.

Other intelligence officials put the death toll as high as 50.

Independent verification of the casualties and the target was not possible because the region is remote, dangerous and largely inaccessible to journalists. US officials do not publicly comment on the strikes.

The latest strike brings to six the number of suspected American missile attacks in South Waziristan in just over two weeks, an uptick that suggests the US is also trying to kill or weaken Mehsud and his followers in the run-up to the Pakistani campaign.

Despite the apparent convergence of interests, Pakistan's army insists it is not coordinating with the US. It says the American missile attacks hurt its attempts to kill or capture Mehsud because they alienate tribesman they are trying to enlist in their campaign against him.

The US is believed to have launched more than 40 missile strikes against targets in the border area since last August that have killed several hundred people, according to a count by The Associated Press based on figures given by intelligence officials.

The Pakistani government protests the strikes as a violation of its sovereignty.


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