At least 11 militants, linked to the dreaded Haqqani network, were killed and several more injured when United States drones on Monday attacked a car and a compound in Pakistan's restive Kurram tribal region, which has rarely been targeted by the CIA-operated unmanned spy planes.
The drones carried out the missile strikes in Kharh Dand, a remote area of Kurram Agency. The region borders Afghanistan's eastern Paktia province. Reports said a majority of the dead were Afghan fighters from the Al Qaeda linked Haqqani network.
The drones initially targeted a vehicle in which suspected militants were travelling. When some more rebels gathered in the area to carry out a rescue operation, the drones struck again.
The drones also targeted a militant compound. A total of 11 militants were killed and several others injured in the three attacks.
The Kharh Dand area is a stronghold of militant commander Fazal Saeed, who is linked to the Haqqani network.
The CIA's drone campaign has largely focussed on militant hideouts in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan regions, where scores of missile strikes have been carried out in the past three years.
Officials in Kurram Agency told the media that there had been only three drone strikes reported in the region. Today's attacks marked an expansion of the drone campaign despite calls from the Pakistan government to end the missile strikes.
Security sources said militants from Waziristan, Khyber and Orakzai tribal regions had moved to remote and mountainous parts of Kurram Agency.
They are active in the area and have blocked several key routes. Kurram Agency has witnessed widespread sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni tribesmen since 2007. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between the rival tribesmen.
The situation in the region took a turn for the worse after Taliban fighters infiltrated the area and began backing the Sunnis. A truce between the rival tribesmen, reportedly brokered by the Haqqani militant network, has repeatedly been violated in recent months.
Local tribesmen said the Haqqani network cut a deal with the Shia Muslims in Kurram so that its fighters could cross over to Afghanistan through the region.
In a related development, tribesmen in the volatile North Waziristan Agency on Monday organised a protest against US drone strikes in the tribal belt. All markets in the region were closed and the protest affected life in Miranshah, Mirali, Razmak and Datta Khel.
Hundreds of tribesmen, carrying black flags and shouting slogans against the drone strikes, closed key roads. They demanded that the attacks by the spy planes should be stopped immediately as innocent people, including women and children, were being killed.
The tribesmen warned they would block NATO supply routes if the Pakistan government failed to stop the drone attacks. Speakers who address the protestors alleged the US is firing missiles into North Waziristan with the help of the government.
Tribal elder Malik Shahjehan said the tribesmen would march on Islamabad if the government did not stop drone strikes.
Other elders said the government has failed to implement a parliamentary resolution which last month called for an end to drone strikes.