A suspected U.S drone attack in a remote border region of Pakistan is said to have killed at least four militants believed to have links to the Taliban and al-Qaida networks. The Pakistani military says it has killed 16 Taliban militants in the ongoing Swat offensive and has tightened the noose around the key rebel commander in the valley. Analysts say that killings and arrests of some of the top Taliban commanders in recent days appears to have dealt a crippling blow to the insurgents in Pakistan.
The early morning missile strike in the tribal region known as North Waziristan is said to have struck a vehicle carrying local and foreign militants. Residents and local intelligence officials in the area that borders Afghanistan say that a suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft fired the missiles near the town of Mir Ali.
Independent confirmation of the death toll is not possible because the region is a militant stronghold.
It was the third such strike in North Waziristan within the past week. At least 18 suspected militants were killed in the previous two attacks.
A similar missile attack in the neighboring South Waziristan border region in early August killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baituallah Mehsud.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani military has reported more gains against Taliban militants in the ongoing offensive in and round the northwestern Swat Valley. It says 16 militants were killed in the clashes, including two key Taliban commanders, while more than 150 suspected fighters surrendered to local military authorities.
Senior Pakistani officials also say security forces in Swat have surrounded Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah and efforts are being made to capture him. Last week the extremist leader's top spokesman, Muslim Khan was captured with four other militant commanders and military officials say information obtained from the detainees has helped the subsequent raids in Swat.
Analysts say that recent arrests and killings of top militant commanders, including Baituallah Mehsud, appear to have broken the back of militants and led to infighting among various Taliban groups.
Former security chief of Pakistan's tribal regions, Mahmood Shah, says the military is better placed today to extend the Swat anti-insurgency offensive into other Taliban strongholds, like the Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
"The Taliban are basically on retreat," Shah said. "They have not got their acts together. So I think the Swat operation has sent a very strong signal and if the government now starts an operation in even Waziristan, which is considered as a hard nut, I think it has good chances to succeed."
Pakistan's military says since launching the Swat offensive in late April, it has killed nearly 2,000 militants and captured many more. It has also carried out major air strikes in the South Waziristan tribal region, the Taliban stronghold. But the military has yet to launch a ground offensive there because it says it is consolidating gains in the Swat Valley before expanding the anti-insurgency activity.