Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

'US missile strikes' hit Pakistan

US drone
The missile strikes have been criticised by Pakistan's political parties

At least 18 people are reported dead in a suspected US drone attack near the Afghan border in north-west Pakistan.

Two missiles fired by the drone struck the home of a local tribesman in the Kurram tribal region, officials say.

The building was being used as a Taleban recruitment office, officials told the BBC.

The US has launched many similar attacks in recent months, mostly targeting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal regions.

Local administration officials told the BBC the home was being used by the organisation of Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The Pakistani government has not yet commented on the incident.

The attack took place in the Sarpul area of Kurram, about 15km (nine miles) from the border with Afghanistan's Khost province.

Serious differences

"Smoke can be seen over the area where the missiles struck," a security official told Reuters news agency.

The official said that the "Afghan Taleban were holding an important meeting there when the missiles were fired".

Pakistan map
The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says the strike is the first to target the Taleban in the Kurram tribal region.

The area has been the scene of an ongoing sectarian war between Sunni Taleban militants and local Shia militias.

The strike is also the second to target Baitullah Mehsud's organisation in as many days.

On Saturday, two missiles destroyed a house near the Afghan border reportedly being used as a meeting place by his men.

At least 28 militants, including foreign fighters, were killed in that attack.

Kurram, which is less than 100km from the Afghan capital, Kabul, served as the most important launching pad for the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Last month, suspected US missile strikes killed at least 25 militants close to the Afghan border.

More than 20 attacks have been carried out from drones on targets in north-western Pakistan in recent months.

The US and Pakistan have had serious disagreements over the Afghan border zone, with Washington unhappy at Pakistani efforts to tackle militants and Islamabad condemning the US drone attacks.

Pakistani leaders had expressed hope that the new US administration would halt the controversial air strikes, saying they fuelled public anger and complicated Pakistan's own counter-insurgency efforts.

But the drone attacks have continued since Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president last month.

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