- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — American drones launched three missile strikes against suspected militant targets in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing 13 people, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The missiles struck hours apart in the North Waziristan tribal region, which is home to Afghan militant groups launching attacks on U.S. forces and its NATO allies across the border as well as al Qaeda terrorists and Pakistani insurgents.

Washington wants Islamabad to launch a military offensive in the region, but so far has had to rely only on the missile strikes to hamper militant operations.

The tempo of attacks has picked up recently, with roughly 20 apiece in the past two months, double the preceding monthly tally.

The U.S. believes that the Haqqani network, based in North Waziristan, is the biggest threat to allied forces in Afghanistan. Its fighters are said to attack in Afghanistan and then retreat across the border, out of reach of NATO and American ground forces.

Pakistan has yet to attack it because it has never targeted Islamabad, unlike other groups behind the near daily terrorist attacks. Many security analysts believe it is being maintained as a strategic asset to assert Pakistani influence in Afghanistan once American forces quit.

In the first attack, the unmanned aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in the Qutab Khel area of Miran Shah, the main town in the region. The five slain insurgents were from Uzbekistan, the officials said.

In the second, missiles struck a house and a vehicle in Khaso Khel village near Mir Ali, killing four other suspected militants. The third strike involved four missiles slamming into a vehicle in Pai Khel village in Datta Khel town, killing four more militants, the officials said.

The two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said their agents were still trying to get more details.

North Waziristan is too dangerous for outsiders to visit and independently confirm who the victims are.

Some locals allege that they regularly kill innocents; others say the missiles are very accurate and most all of the dead are militants or villagers knowingly harboring them. U.S. officials do not acknowledge firing the missiles, much less discuss who they are targeting.

Pakistani government officials were not available for comment. They publicly denounce the drone attacks and have urged Washington to transfer technology to Islamabad so that its military could launch any such attacks on its own.

It is widely believed, however, that the army has given a tacit approval to the strikes and the recent increase in attacks has not attracted a greater level of criticism.

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