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Suspected U.S. Drones Attack Pakistani Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Suspected U.S. drones have fired six missiles into a Pakistani Taliban training camp near the Afghan border, killing six militants, government and intelligence agency officials said.

The predawn attack was in the South Waziristan region, in a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, they said.

"It happened at around 2.30 a.m. [local time]. It was a precision strike," said a senior government official in the region who declined to be identified.

The United States, grappling with an intensifying Afghan insurgency, began stepping up attacks by pilotless drone aircraft on northwestern Pakistani militant enclaves a year ago despite the complaints of its ally, Pakistan.

"The area has been surrounded by militants and they're removing bodies from the debris. We have now confirmed reports of six dead and five wounded," said an intelligence-agency official.

There were no reports of any so-called high-value target being killed, he said.

It was the second missile attack by suspected drones in Pakistan's tribal lands in the past 24 hours. On July 7, a drone strike killed 14 militants in another part of South Waziristan.

Pakistan officially objects to the strikes on its soil, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the violent Islamists.

But U.S. officials have said the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad which allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.

The drone attacks have come as Pakistani troops are slowly preparing for an offensive against Mehsud, carrying out air strikes to soften up targets while soldiers have been sealing off roads into his territory.

Militant Influence

Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda ally, is accused of orchestrating a campaign of bombings in Pakistan, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The United States has announced a reward of $5 million for information leading to Mehsud's arrest or location, while the Pakistani government last month posted a reward of 50 million rupees ($615,000) for him.

After an alarming expansion of militant influence in northwest Pakistan, the army went on the offensive two months ago, attacking the militants who had taken control of the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad.

U.S. officials, fearful for Pakistan's stability and the safety of its nuclear arsenal, welcomed the action.

The military says it is nearing the end of the offensive in Swat, a former tourist valley northwest of Islamabad, although soldiers are encountering pockets of fighters.

No Taliban leaders have been among the approximately 1,600 militants the army has reported killed. Independent casualty estimates are not available.

The fighting has forced nearly 2 million people from their homes. While public backing for the offensive is solid, there is a danger the suffering of the displaced could sap some support.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited a camp for displaced people on Tuesday, telling them they were at the "sharp end" of Pakistan's struggle against militancy and assuring them of international support.

On July 8, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes was visiting.