November 11, 2014 / 3:14 PM / in 4 years

Drone strike kills at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan

BANNU Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, security officials said, the nineteenth such strike reported this year.

The strike hit a house and a vehicle in Datta Khel area of the North Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border, three security officials said. The Pakistani government sent a protest to the U.S. government over the strike.

The officials gave death tolls varying from four to seven. Exact death tolls are often hard to get because the Taliban often cordon off areas where drones have struck.

One official said that the truck had foreign fighters in it and that some had jumped out just before the strike.

Most of North Waziristan is off limits to civilians because of an anti-Taliban military offensive that began June 15. Most of the civilian population were ordered to leave their homes by the military before the offensive began.

The Pakistani military says it has killed hundreds of militants in the operation but the death tolls they provide are not independently confirmed.

The U.S. says it targets militants in the drone strikes, but does not release details about individual strikes. Some of them have killed civilians, although the majority of the dead are suspected militants. The number of strikes has been decreasing since 2010.

The first half of this year, there were no drone strikes as the new Pakistani government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to negotiate peace with the Taliban. Strikes resumed days before the army announced the operation in North Waziristan.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes using media reports, it is the nineteenth drone strike this year. No civilians have been reported killed this year.

The hiatus of strikes in the first half of the year and their subsequent resumption bolstered the widely held view that Pakistani officials are believed to approve some drone strikes despite their public denunciations of them.

Former President Pervez Musharraf admitted after leaving office his government had secretly signed off on some strikes.

Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Ralph Boulton

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