- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2011

PARACHINAR, Pakistan — Suspected U.S. drones fired missiles at a vehicle and a house in northwest Pakistan, killing 12 people Monday in a rare attack in an area where some of NATO’s fiercest enemies reportedly have traveled, Pakistani officials said.

The first attack in the Kurram tribal area hit a vehicle, killing five people, said Noor Alam, a local government official. As tribesmen rushed to the scene, the vehicle was struck again, killing two more people, he said.

Minutes later, a suspected U.S. drone attacked a nearby house, killing five people, Mr. Alam said.

Seven of the 12 people killed in the attacks were Afghan militants whose bodies were taken across the border to be buried, Mr. Alam said. The attacks were confirmed by two Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The Obama administration has dramatically stepped up covert CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, but there have been only a few strikes by the missile-firing pilotless planes in the Kurram tribal area. Monday’s strikes could indicate an expansion of the program.

Most of the recent drone strikes have taken place in North Waziristan, an important sanctuary for the Haqqani Network, which U.S. military officials have said is the most dangerous militant group battling foreign forces in Afghanistan.

The U.S. repeatedly has asked Pakistan to launch an offensive against the network in North Waziristan, but the military has said that its forces are stretched too thin by other operations in the tribal areas.

Local tribesmen said late last year that the Haqqani Network cut a deal with Shiite Muslim militias in Kurram to allow the militants to cross through the area on their way to fighting in Afghanistan.

Drone attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan and have generated tension between Washington and Islamabad, which increased following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month and humiliated the Pakistani government.

About 1,000 tribesmen held a protest against drone strikes Monday in Miran Shah, one of the main towns in North Waziristan. The rally was organized by a pro-Taliban political party, Jamiat Ulema Islam.

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