- Associated Press - Friday, October 15, 2010

MIR ALI, Pakistan (AP) — Suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft launched two missiles at a vehicle in the Pakistani tribal region along the Afghan border Friday, killing three people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

A militant attack on an army checkpoint killed five Pakistani soldiers, other officials said.

The missile attack was in the village of Machi Khel, near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, two officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the press.

The officials said the three killed have not yet been identified, but the village is known to house a mix of militants from the Afghan Taliban and local Pakistani insurgent groups.

The U.S. has sharply escalated its use of unmanned drone missile strikes targeting militants in Pakistan’s border region in the last two months.

The U.S. rarely acknowledges the covert missile program, but officials have said privately the attacks have killed several senior Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. Pakistan officially opposes the program but is believed to secretly support it.

The U.S. carried out 21 such strikes in September, nearly double the previous monthly record, and has already launched 15 this month including those Friday, according to an Associated Press count.

In an early morning attack in South Waziristan on Friday, five Pakistani soldiers were killed when militants sprayed an army checkpoint with gunfire, two other intelligence officials said, also on the condition of anonymity. One other soldier was missing after the attack at the checkpoint in the village of Sararogha, they said.

Pakistan launched a major ground operation in South Waziristan last year that they claimed had cleared the area of militants, but sporadic attacks have continued.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, gunmen ambushed a truck early in the morning as it was returning home after delivering NATO supplies in Afghanistan, killing two people.

Local official Iqbal Khan said the truck was attacked near Jamrud in the Khyber tribal region. The driver and his assistant were killed, and the unidentified gunmen then torched the truck.

The attack was the most recent in a rash of assaults on the Pakistan supply line used to carry non-lethal goods including fuel, military vehicles, spare parts and clothing to foreign troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

Nearly 150 trucks were destroyed as they sat idle during the 11 days Pakistan closed a key border crossing in protest of a NATO helicopter strike that killed two Pakistani border guards. Pakistan reopened the route Sunday.

The U.S. and NATO at one point sent about 80 percent of their non-lethal supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan, but have been steadily reducing that amount. Now about 40 percent of supplies now come through Pakistan, 40 percent through the Central Asian routes, and 20 percent by air.

Later Friday in Peshawar, an assailant threw a hand grenade behind a local government office, said police official Dost Mohammad Khan. Two children were wounded in the explosion, he said.

It was not known who was behind the attack, but Taliban and al Qaeda militants based in the Afghan border region — who are fighting Pakistani police and the army — have carried out hundreds of attacks over the last three years. They have frequently targeted security forces, government officials and their supporters or family members in mosques, schools and markets, showing no concern for civilian casualties.

Peshawar, the capital of the northwest region, has been one of the hardest-hit cities because it lies close to the border area.

Associated Press Writer Riaz Khan contributed to this report from Peshawar.

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