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US missile strike suspected in 2 deaths

A suspected US missile strike killed two people and wounded three in a northwest Pakistan militant stronghold near the Afghan border, intelligence officials and a witness said on Tuesday.

world Updated: Dec 16, 2008 10:14 IST

A suspected US missile strike killed two people and wounded three in a northwest Pakistan militant stronghold near the Afghan border, intelligence officials and a witness said on Tuesday.

The Monday night strike in Tabi Tolkhel village in the North Waziristan tribal region appears to be the latest in a surge of alleged US missile attacks in Pakistani territory that have raised tensions in a border region bedeviled by al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

Also on Monday, a transporters association said escalating militant attacks on a key supply route for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan have prompted Pakistani truckers to refuse to haul the vital military-bound supplies. More than 30 alleged US missile strikes have been reported since August in Pakistan's northwest. The Muslim nation, a critical US ally in the war on terror, routinely protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, saying they inflame anti-American sentiment.

The latest suspected US strike set a house on fire, said Ajab Khan, a village resident who went to the scene. He said he saw two bodies brought out, and that three wounded people were taken away in a vehicle.

Suspected Taliban militants surrounded the house afterward, Khan said _ a common occurrence after such strikes.

Three local intelligence officials confirmed the account, citing informants. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

US officials rarely acknowledge or comment on the individual missile strikes, many of which are said to originate from CIA-run unmanned drones.

However, American leaders have previously said the strikes have helped kill some important militant leaders who use Pakistani territory as safe havens from which to plot attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani troops recently began escorting convoys carrying supplies for the Western troops through the Khyber Pass to the border to protect them from Taliban ambushes. Western military officials insist their Afghan operations are not at risk. However, suspected militants have pulled off a series of bold raids on depots near the city of Peshawar in recent weeks, killing several guards and burning hundreds of vehicles, including scores of Humvees.

Shakirullah Afridi, the president of the Khyber Transport Union, said on Monday its members had been using some 3,500 trucks and trailers to carry fuel, food and other supplies to Afghanistan. He said all were boycotting work carrying military supplies _ and that no offer of improved terms and security would persuade them to risk their lives or equipment again.

"If all the countries of NATO cannot control the situation in Afghanistan, how can escorts from the Frontier Corps ensure our safety?" Afridi said, referring to the paramilitary force that guard the convoys.

A spokesman for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan played down the boycott threat and said it did not deal with Afridi's association. "If suddenly 70 per cent of our stuff isn't reaching us, we'd know about it, and that's not the case," Lt. Cmdr. James Gater said. "There is no indication to us that there is a disruption to our supply lines at this stage."

Up to 75 per cent of the supplies for Western forces in the landlocked country pass through Pakistan after being unloaded from ships at the Arabian sea port of Karachi.

Most of the material passes through Peshawar, which lies on the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal regions where Taliban militants hold increasing sway and Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.

NATO says it is investigating alternative supply routes through Central Asian nations to reach its forces, but has acknowledged that they are more expensive.

The US military plans to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan in the coming months.