Two American drone strikes hours apart destroyed a hideout in Taliban strongholds in Pakistan's rugged tribal regions Thursday and a vehicle with a number of fighters inside. A close ally of one of the area's top militant commanders and 10 others were killed, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly, but officials have said privately that the drone strikes have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders. Pakistani officials regularly criticize the U.S. attacks in public as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government has actually supported them in private and allowed the drones to take off from bases within Pakistan.
That cooperation has become strained this year as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated, especially following the arrest of a CIA contractor in January and the covert American raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.
The first attack in the South Waziristan tribal area hit a vehicle and killed Khan Mohammed, also known as Sathai, deputy leader of a group of militants led by Maulvi Nazir and also the commander's cousin, said the officials. It also killed Nazir's younger brother, Hazrat Omar, the officials said.
Hours later, five missiles hit the militant hideout near North Waziristan's town of Mir Ali, killing six men, said the officials on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Nazir is one of the most powerful militant commanders in the tribal region and is accused of working with the Taliban and al-Qaida to stage attacks against foreign troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
He is believed to have close relations with Pakistani intelligence and agreed to stay neutral when the military invaded South Waziristan in 2009 to fight the Pakistani Taliban, who have focused their attacks against the Pakistani state.
The U.S. has criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on militants staging attacks in Afghanistan and has stepped up drone attacks in the tribal region to combat them.
The five militants killed in Thursday's drone strike were riding in a pickup truck from Tora Gola village to the nearby area of Azam Warsak when they were hit, said the intelligence officials. Three other people were injured in the attack, they said.
Associated Press Writers Riaz Khan and Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Peshawar.