US drone 'kills four' in Pakistan's North Waziristan

Map of federally administered tribal areas

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A US drone strike has killed at least four suspected militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, security officials say, in an area known to be a stronghold of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The attack is the third since March, when Pakistan's parliament called for the use of drones to cease.

Pakistan says the raids serve to drive local people closer to the militants.

Washington has cut the number of drone operations but has ruled out stopping them altogether.

The issue of drone strikes, along with Pakistan's refusal to re-open Nato supply routes to Afghanistan, has led to increased tension in US-Pakistan relations in recent months.

Officials say that in the latest drone attack, two missiles were fired on Wednesday morning on a house near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, killing the four suspected militants.

President Barack Obama in January confirmed for the first time that US drones do target militants in Pakistan, but US officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.

According to a tally carried out by the AFP news agency, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal areas in 2009, the year the president took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.

The tribal areas are targeted because they are considered to be a hub of Taliban cross-border insurgent activity.

Those killed in the drone operations have included al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, as well as civilians and other militants.

The Pakistani government repeatedly argues that drone attacks are a violation of its sovereignty.

But the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says many analysts believe they could not continue without tacit support from the country's leadership.

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