- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BANNU, Pakistan (AP) — The U.S. carried out its first drone strike into Pakistan since errant November airstrikes by U.S. forces killed two dozen Pakistani troops along the Afghan border. The latest missile attack killed four militants, three of them Arabs, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

The drone strike took place Tuesday near Miran Shah in North Waziristan, an al Qaeda and Taliban stronghold that has been pounded by the U.S. since the drone program began in earnest in 2009. The intelligence officials didn’t give their names because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Relations with Pakistan plummeted after the Nov. 26 airstrikes prompted Islamabad to shut down vital supply routes into Afghanistan and force the U.S. to vacate Shamsi Air Base in southwestern Baluchistan province. The U.S. used the base to service drones that targeted militants in the tribal regions close to Afghanistan.

American officials say there had been no promise by Washington that drone operations would be avoided since the deadly airstrikes, but that the lull was part of a broad effort to tamp down tensions with Pakistan. While there has long been some level of agreement by Pakistan over the drone attacks, their scope and frequency has been a source of friction between the two countries.

An American investigation into the November airstrikes concluded that a persistent lack of trust between the U.S. and Pakistan, and a series of communications and coordination errors on both sides, led to the attacks. Pakistani officials have rejected that probe and there has been little public sign that relations between the two countries are improving.

There were more than 60 drone attacks last year, significantly less than in 2010. The attacks have killed scores of militants, among them several mid- and high-ranking commanders. American officials don’t talk about the program in public, but privately say it has been vital in tamping down the threat from al Qaeda in one of its global hubs.

Human rights activists in Pakistan and abroad have reported significant civilian casualties as a result of the strikes.

The U.S. says the strikes are accurate, but doesn’t publicly investigate the allegations.

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Lolita Baldor reported from Washington.