- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan‘s army chief strongly condemned a U.S. drone attack that killed more than three dozen people Thursday, saying the missiles struck a peaceful meeting of tribal elders near the Afghanistan border.

The accusation by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani adds tension to a relationship that already was strained by the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by a CIA contractor who was freed Wednesday following a contentious deal to pay millions in “blood money” to the men’s families.

These conflicts make it that much harder for the United States to persuade Pakistan to cooperate on the Afghan war by targeting Taliban militants on its territory. The militants regularly stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops.

“It is highly regrettable that a jirga (meeting) of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” said Gen. Kayani in a written statement. “In complete violation of human rights, such acts of violence take us away from our objective of elimination of terrorism.”

Gen. Kayani’s condemnation conflicted with statements provided by Pakistani intelligence officials throughout the day saying the 38 people killed and seven wounded in the attack were militants meeting to discuss sending additional fighters into Afghanistan.

The officials said the militants were allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a powerful Pakistani Taliban leader in the area, and even gave the name of a senior militant, Sharabat Khan, who was reportedly killed in the attack.

The compound was targeted by two pairs of missiles fired three minutes apart. It was located in the Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal region, the main sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters along the Afghan border, said the intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

• Rasool Dawar in Mir Ali, Pakistan, and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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