MIR ALI, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani fighter jets flattened a suspected Taliban hide-out in the northwest early Saturday, killing six associates of a top local Taliban leader, intelligence officials said.
Pakistan has targeted Baitullah Mehsud and his commanders in recent months in various tribal regions. Mehsud is accused of orchestrating the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and launching a string of suicide attacks across the country.On Saturday's airstrike in Upper Orakzai destroyed the hideouts of Mehsud's deputy Hakim Ullah, but it was unclear if he was present at the time, said two intelligence officials who sought anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to media.
The strike came a day after a suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least five alleged militants in North Waziristan, officials said, showing America's unwillingness to abandon the tactic even as Pakistani officials say it could interfere with army offensives in the northwest.
The missile strike hit a house in Gariwam village in North Waziristan, said two intelligence officials who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.
Local government official Anayat Ullah also confirmed a missile hit the village, while resident Ahmad Raza said he heard Taliban in the area saying five of their comrades were dead. Over the past year, the U.S. has launched dozens of missiles strikes in Pakistan's northwest regions bordering Afghanistan. The North and South Waziristan sections of the country's semiautonomous tribal belt have been frequent targets because of the heavy Taliban and al-Qaida presence there.
U.S. officials rarely acknowledge or comment on the individual strikes, but some have defended the tactic, saying it has killed several top al-Qaida fighters. The U.S. is keen on ridding Pakistan of safe havens for militants involved in attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Though many analysts suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing the drone-fired missiles, Pakistan formally protests the assaults, saying they violate its sovereignty and stir anger among tribes in the affected areas.
The army has said keeping the Waziristan tribes happy is key right now in particular, because it needs their help, or neutrality, as it prepares to launch a full-scale offensive aimed at capturing or killing.
South Waziristan is his base, and U.S. missiles have hit targets associated with him.
Elsewhere in Pakistan's northwest, the army proceeded with operations against militants in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts. Two soldiers died in a roadside bombing during the previous 24 hours, according to a military statement released on Friday afternoon.
The deaths were a sign that danger persists in the region, even as the army has declared it largely cleared of militants and Pakistanis displaced by fighting have started to return by the thousands.