Suspected US drone 'kills 14' in Pakistan

A suspected US drone fired a missile into a Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border today killing 14 militants, an intelligence agency official and residents said.

The United States, grappling with an intensifying Afghan insurgency, began stepping up attacks by pilotless drone aircraft on northwestern Pakistani militant enclaves a year ago despite the complaints of its ally, Pakistan.

The attack was in the South Waziristan region, in a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, they said.

"Fourteen militants have been killed and several wounded in the attack that targeted an important compound of Baitullah Mehsud," said Jan Mohammad Mehsud, a resident of the area.

An intelligence agency official said among the 14 people killed were four or five foreigners. He had no information about their identity.

The attack came as Pakistani troops are slowly preparing for an offensive against Mehsud, carrying out air strikes to soften up targets while soldiers have been sealing off roads into his area.

Pakistan officially objects to the strikes by pilotless US aircraft on its soil saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy by inflaming public anger and bolstering support for the militants.