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Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Monday, 22 December 2008

'Seven killed' in Pakistan strike

US drone (file image)
US missile strikes have been criticised by Pakistan's political parties

A suspected pilotless American drone has fired two missiles in a border area of Pakistan, killing at least seven people, Pakistani officials have said.

Reports say two vehicles and a house were hit in South Waziristan. The identity of those killed is not known.

US-operated pilotless drones have launched more than 20 missile attacks in Pakistani tribal areas since August.

The Pakistani government is under huge public pressure to defend its territory against such attacks.

The latest missile strikes came as America's top military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, made his second visit to Pakistan this month.

Adm Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, arrived from Afghanistan where he met President Karzai and discussed the deployment of additional US forces.

At the weekend, Adm Mullen said the US could send up to 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan by the middle of next year, more than previously mentioned.

'Anti-aircraft fire'

Reports quoted unnamed officials as saying that the missiles struck two villages in South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan.

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Reports said a drone began circling at about 0300 local time, and then struck a few hours later.

Witnesses say that one of the targets was a vehicle mounted with an anti-aircraft gun, and that militants had been using the weapon to fire at the drone.

Four people are believed to have been killed as missiles tore into both the vehicle and an adjacent building.

Soon afterwards there was another strike in a second village nearby, with another vehicle targeted. Witnesses say that Taleban fighters gathered to bury the bodies.

A resident of one of the villages told Reuters by telephone that local tribespeople had "opened fire on the drones after the attacks".

A security official told AFP news agency that it was not clear whether the missile attacks had targeted any senior al-Qaeda or Taleban members.

Violation

US drone attacks are believed to have been largely on target, hitting Taleban and al-Qaeda hideouts in the north-western Waziristan tribal region.

There have been few civilian casualties, officials say.

But Pakistani media and opposition parties view these attacks as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said his government was considering "a number of options" to counter attacks by US drones inside its territory.

His statement came after Pakistan's air force chief said his force was equipped to tackle the drones militarily.

The opposition has been pressing the government either to counter US strikes militarily, or to at least raise the issue at the United Nations.

The Pakistani government says these attacks are counter-productive as they help offset the negative popularity the militants have gained in areas under their control.

However, it has been reluctant to move either diplomatically or militarily to stop these strikes.

This has fuelled speculation that the attacks may be part of a secret pact between Pakistan and the US.

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