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Suspected U.S. Drone Attack Kills Four In Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least four suspected foreign militants, intelligence officers and a government official said.

Several people were wounded in the predawn attack, in the Janikhel tribal area in Bannu district of Northwest Frontier Province.

Janikhel does not belong to one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, but borders North Waziristan -- a militant hotbed where suspected U.S. drone aircraft have launched a series of missile strikes in recent months.

"It's a drone attack, and we have reports of four people killed," said Abdul Hamid, a senior government official in the region.

Missile-armed drones are primarily used by U.S. forces in the region, though the United States seldom confirms drone attacks. Pakistan does not have any.

Intelligence officials said those killed were all foreigners and appeared to be Turkmen. A resident said Taliban fighters cordoned off the area after the missile attack.

Many Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, including Arabs, Chechens, Turkmen, Uzbeks, and other Central Asians, fled to Pakistan's tribal lands after a U.S.-led military invasion toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Intensified Attacks

Frustrated by fighters from Pakistan fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and fearful of Al-Qaeda regrouping, U.S. forces have intensified missile attacks by pilotless drones, security sources said.

U.S. strikes have focused on North and South Waziristan where at least 20 missile attacks and a crossborder commando raid have killed scores of people since September.

Pakistan objects to the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty and argues that the strikes undermine its efforts persuade people to support campaigns against the militants, and heightens already rampant anti-American sentiment.

Pakistan hopes the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Barack Obama will be more sensitive to Pakistan's situation and take a less unilateral approach, though Obama's comments during his election campaign hardly encouraged those hopes.

The United States has refrained from using ground troops in crossborder incursions since the diplomatic storm blew up over the commando raid into South Waziristan on September 3.

Pakistani security forces are battling militants in several parts of the northwest.

There is an ongoing offensive in the Bajaur region at the northeastern end of the tribal belt, and in Swat Valley, while there are expectations that the next offensive will be launched in the neighboring Mohmand tribal area.