- Associated Press - Sunday, January 23, 2011

MIR ALI, Pakistan (AP) — A pair of suspected U.S.drone strikes killed six alleged militants in Pakistan’s troubled North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The attacks came as more than 2,000 tribesmen, many of them students, held a protest in one of North Waziristan’s largest towns demanding an end to the drone strikes, saying they killed innocent civilians.

Militants have effective control over North Waziristan, and it was unclear if they played a role in organizing the protest. The United States refuses to acknowledge the covert CIA drone strikes publicly, but officials insist privately that the attacks are precise and mainly kill Taliban and al Qaeda militants. However, there have been credible accounts of civilian casualties.

In the first drone attack, the aircraft fired two missiles at a vehicle and a house in Doga Mada Khel village, killing four suspected militants, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Hours later, a drone fired two missiles at a pair of suspected foreign militants riding a motorcycle in the same village, killing them, said the officials.

The exact identities of the suspected militants killed were unknown, but Doga Mada Khel is controlled by fighters loyal to the powerful militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur. His group and other militants in North Waziristan regularly launch attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The United States, given the reluctance of the Pakistani army to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, has stepped up its use of drone strikes to target militants in the area.

The Pakistani army says its troops are stretched too thin carrying out operations in other parts of the tribal regions. Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target militants in the area with whom it has historical ties and who could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw.

The tribesmen who marched through the streets of Mir Ali town in North Waziristan on Sunday protesting the strikes shouted “Death to the U.S.” and “Death to the CIA.”

Drone attacks are killing innocent people, women and children,” said Majid Khan, president of the Waziristan Students Society. The attacks “have put tribal society in a state of constant fear and have turned tribesmen into psychiatric patients.”

Some 2,000 people held a similar protest, which was watched over by armed Taliban militants, in North Waziristan’s main town of Miran Shah on Friday.

Haji Mumtaz Khan, who offered prayers at the end of Sunday’s protest, said the Pakistani government should force the United States to stop the drone attacks.

Pakistan officially protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but its security agencies are believed to cooperate secretly with the program.

Elsewhere in the northwest, gunmen ambushed a vehicle Sunday carrying the former mayor of a town wracked by militancy, killing three people and wounding four others, including the mayor, police said.

Gunmen attacked Amir Faisal, the former mayor of Hangu town, as he was riding with his relatives, said police official Gul Jamal. Mr. Faisal’s father, nephew and driver were killed, and the mayor and three passers-by were wounded, he said.

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