Nine die in missile strikes as Taliban deny meeting with UN

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The Independent Online

Suspected US missiles hit a compound and a bunker in Pakistan's tribal region today, killing nine militants as part of an unprecedented wave of strikes since a deadly attack against the CIA across the border in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.

Three missiles targeted Taliban militants this morning in the Mohammad Khel area of North Waziristan, where militant groups blamed for launching attacks on American and NATO troops across the border are based. The mountainous area is where a suspected US drone is reported to have crashed on January 24.

Two missiles in today's attack hit the compound being used by the militants, killing seven of them, intelligence officials said. The third killed two more insurgents in the bunker.

Another such strike early this month targeted a meeting of militant commanders in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to kill Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

Mehsud appeared in a video sitting beside the Jordanian man who carried out the December 30 suicide bombing of a remote CIA base in Afghanistan's Khost province that killed seven of the agency's employees.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman also claimed responsibility for the attack to avenge the killing of their former chief, Baitullah Mehsud, in a drone strike last year.

Analysts suspect the Haqqani network, an al-Qa-ida-linked Afghan Taliban faction based in North Waziristan, also helped carry out the CIA attack, the worst against the spy agency in decades.

Since the bombing, the US has carried out 13 suspected drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, an unprecedented volley of attacks since the CIA-led missile programme began in earnest in Pakistan two years ago.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are denying reports that their representatives met with a UN official to discuss prospects for peace in Afghanistan.

A statement by the Taliban ruling council today said reports of a meeting between the UN's Afghanistan chief, Kai Eide, and representatives of the militants were "futile and baseless rumors."

Eide has not publicly acknowledged such a meeting but US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the official wanted to "get his own conclusion about the mindset of some of the Taliban members."

The Taliban statement vows to continue the war in Afghanistan. It says the refusal to accept peace overtures offered at this week's London conference dealt "a crushing blow" to US strategy in Afghanistan.