PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Three American missile attacks reportedly killed 54 alleged militants Friday close to the Afghan border, an unusually high number of victims that included commanders of a Taliban-allied group that were holding a meeting.
The Associated Press said it was told by Pakistani intelligence officials that attacks took place in the Khyber tribal region, which has rarely been struck by American missiles over the last three years. That could indicate a possible expansion of the CIA-led covert campaign of drone strikes inside Pakistani territory.
The Obama administration has intensified missile attacks in northwest Pakistan since taking office, desperate to weaken insurgent networks there that U.S. officials say are behind much of the violence against U.S. troops just across the frontier in Afghanistan.
AP said the Pakistani officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
The first strike targeted two vehicles in the Sandana area of the Tirah Valley, killing seven militants and wounding another nine. The men were believed to belong to the Pakistani Taliban, one of the country's largest and deadliest insurgent groups.
Later, missiles hit a compound in Speen Darang village where the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban affiliate known to be strong in Khyber, were meeting, killing 32 people, among them commanders. The third strike took place in Narai Baba village and killed 15 militants.
U.S. officials do not acknowledge firing the missiles, and it is impossible to independently report on the aftermath of the attacks because outsiders are not allowed to visit the tribal regions. Human rights groups say there are significant numbers of civilian casualties in the attacks.
Most of the more than 100 missile attacks this year inside Pakistan have taken place in North Waziristan, which is effectively under the control of a mix of Taliban, al-Qaida and related groups.
Pakistani officials protest the missile strikes but are believed to secretly authorize and provide intelligence on at least some of them.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was "very possible" that Pakistan would be able to root out insurgents from safe havens inside its territory that serve as a launching point for lethal strikes in Afghanistan.
Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said the existence of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan "makes delivery of peace and stability here in Afghanistan very difficult."
Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of U.S. and NATO forces, praised Pakistan's efforts to rout militants inside the country and its new willingness to cooperate with NATO forces on the Afghan side of the border.
Yemen cooperating: Despite U.S.-Yemeni relations fraught with debate and tension, the two sides are ratcheting up efforts to capture or kill militants, John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, said Friday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen is responsible for trying to bring down U.S.-bound cargo planes with printer cartridges packed with explosives as well as a plot to blow up an airliner near Detroit last Dec. 25.