US missile strikes in Pakistan kill 17

US pilotless aircraft on Friday fired around a half dozen missiles at two militant hideouts, killing at least six suspected al-Qaeda members and 11 local militants in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, intelligence officials said, dpa reported.

The attacks were the first since US President Barack Obama took office Tuesday, and were a sign he has no intention of backing off the airstrikes begun under the Bush administration to deny the militants refuge in Pakistan.

Three Hellfire missiles targeted a house in the Zirki area of Mir Ali in the tribal district of South Waziristan, a known sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

"Four foreigners and five local Taliban militants have been confirmed dead, while some people are injured," said the intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Taliban have cordoned off the area and they are trying to pull out more injured or bodies, if there are some, from the rubble," he added.

Separately, two missiles were fired at at a house by suspected US drones in the Gangi Khel area of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

"Eight bodies have been recovered from the demolished building, while some people, including women and children, are still believed to be trapped under the rubble," said another intelligence official. He feared the death toll might rise.

"According to the information we have received from the locals, two of those killed are foreigners of Arab origin," he added.

US forces have carried out dozens of drone attacks on suspected positions of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants late last year, which also saw the first documented ground operation by American troops inside Pakistan. The CIA is believed to operate Predator drones in the area, but the White House would not comment on the strikes.

"I'm not going to get into these matters," spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington.

Though the strikes have eliminated several al-Qaeda operatives, the Pakistani government has condemned them, saying they violate Pakistan's sovereignty and complicate its efforts against terrorism by fuelling public anger.

Pakistani authorities had hoped that a review of the conflict in Afghanistan by the Obama administration would result in an end to the airstrikes.

"It's too early to reach conclusions. Obama took over just two days ago and he cannot change the years-old policy just in that short time," said Pakistan's former interior minister and a retired general, Hamid Nawaz.

"But even if he is unable to bring about any change, we should stick to our national interests and do what is in our own interests," he added.

The Pakistani government is under public pressure to abandon cooperation in the US-led international fight against terrorism if drone attacks are not halted within its borders.

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