- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at a house and a vehicle in a militant-infested area of northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing seven people, intelligence officials said.

The strikes were nearly 12 hours apart in the North Waziristan tribal area. They were the latest attacks in an intensifying campaign by the U.S. to use unmanned aircraft in Pakistan to wage war against militants who regularly target foreign troops in Afghanistan.

There have now been at least 19 suspected U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan this month, many of them in North Waziristan. There were 21 such attacks in September, nearly double the previous monthly record.

The first strike occurred at about 3:30 a.m. when a drone fired a missile at a house in the Spin Wam area, killing three people, said the intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The second attack took place around 2:45 p.m. when a drone fired a missile at a vehicle in the Datta Khel area, killing four suspected foreign militants, the officials said. Two were Arab and two were Western, they said.

No additional information about the suspected militants was provided. But many U.S. drone strikes in recent months have targeted fighters linked to the Haqqani network, which military officials have declared the most dangerous militant group in Afghanistan.

The U.S. refuses to publicly acknowledge that it carries out drone attacks in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the covert CIA-run program has killed several high-level Taliban and al Qaeda commanders.

Pakistani officials often publicly criticize the strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, but the government is widely believed to provide intelligence information for the attacks and allow drones to take off from a base inside Pakistan.

One of the suspected reasons the U.S. has increased drone strikes in Pakistan is that the country’s government refuses to launch an offensive against militants in North Waziristan.

Pakistan’s army says it can’t launch such an offensive now because it is stretched thin by other operations along the Afghan border. But many analysts believe it is reluctant to target Taliban militants with whom it has historical ties and could be useful allies once foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

Many of the militants in North Waziristan are also more focused on attacking NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan rather than targets within Pakistan, so they are viewed as less of a threat by the government.

However, the Pakistani military has aggressively targeted militants who have declared war on the Pakistani state. The militants have fought back by attacking the country’s security forces, civilians and anti-Taliban militias the government has helped set up in an effort to combat militancy.

A bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded Wednesday as a member of one of these militias drove up to a market in the village of Qamberkhel in the Khyber tribal region, wounding the militiaman and five other people in the vehicle, said local government administrator Riaz Khan.

Malik Amal Gul and the five others were rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Peshawar, said Khan.

Also Wednesday, a bomb apparently targeting a police patrol in Pakistan’s southwest Baluchistan province killed two civilians and wounded 9 other people, including four police officers, said Hamid Shakeel, chief of police in the provincial capital, Quetta.

No group immediately claimed responsibility. But Baluchistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency which aims to win more autonomy for the province and a greater share of the money from its natural resources.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

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