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U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five Militants In Pakistan


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- A pilotless U.S. drone fired two missiles into a Taliban communication center in a volatile tribal region on the Afghan border, killing five militants, intelligence officials have said.

The attack on the center run by Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistani Taliban chief and an Al-Qaeda ally, took place late on July 10 in the South Waziristan region.

"The communication center is totally destroyed and we have reports of the death of five militants," an intelligence agency official told Reuters by telephone from the region.

The United States, grappling with an intensifying Afghan insurgency, began stepping up attacks by drones on northwestern Pakistani militant enclaves a year ago.

Most of the recent attacks have hit Mehsud's targets in Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan. More than 40 fighters were killed in similar strikes in the region on July 8.

U.S. military officials accuse Mehsud of providing suicide bombers for insurgents attacks against U.S., NATO, and Afghan targets in Afghanistan. The United States has announced a reward of $5 million on information leading to the arrest or location of Mehsud.

The militant leader is also accused of being behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and a campaign of suicide and bomb attacks across the country in recent years.

The Pakistani military has also carried out air strikes on Mehsud's targets in recent weeks and is preparing to mount an all-out assault against him as it nears the end of an offensive in the northwestern Swat Valley launched in late April.

U.S. officials said on July 9 that U.S. military surveillance drones have resumed tracking militants in Pakistan to support Pakistani operations in South Waziristan.

The U.S. military began surveillance flights over Pakistani territory in mid-March but ceased a month later when Pakistan abruptly stopped requesting the intelligence. Officials said the missions resumed early last month.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the drones provide Pakistan with video images, communications intercepts, and other information from border areas controlled by Mehsud.

The flights are not connected with U.S. missile attacks from CIA drones, which the Pakistan government has condemned.

Separately, 10 Taliban and a soldier were killed in a gunfight after militants attacked a checkpoint in Zhob district in a southwestern province of Baluchistan late on July 10, government and intelligence officials said.

Baluchistan borders southern Afghanistan where U.S. Marines launched a major new offensive a week ago.

Pakistan, already battling militants in the northwest, has expressed worries about the influx of insurgents into its territory if fighting intensified in Afghan south.
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