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2010-01-06T15:09:49-0600

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 1:09pm

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — American missiles, presumably fired by remotely piloted drones, struck twice Wednesday in North Waziristan, the tribal region that is a stronghold of Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The drone strikes were the first reported since Dec. 30, when a double agent detonated a suicide vest packed with explosives and killed eight people at a C.I.A. base in southeastern Afghanistan. The C.I.A. base served as an important part of the American effort to target Al Qaeda’s top leadership in the region, including with drone strikes.

The missiles hit along the border with Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, in an area that has been a repeated target of drone strikes as the United States seeks to halt the flow of fighters from Pakistan.

Details of the drones strikes in the remote area remained sketchy and the death tolls varied, but a government official said as many as 20 or 25 people may have been killed.

A resident of Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan, said by telephone that the initial strike occurred in the village of Sanzalai, in a mountainous region about 22 miles west.

“Just when militants people gathered at the scene to retrieve the bodies and pull out the wounded, another missile struck an hour later,” he said. The second strike left five dead and wounded another three, he said.

He said that the area was under the control of local militants and those killed in the first strike appeared to “guests,” a term used for foreign militants, or Al Qaeda.

A senior government official in Peshawar, the capital of neighboring North West Frontier Province, said that 17 people were killed but acknowledged that details remained unclear.

The official who gave the higher death toll said that the target of the attack was a base of Pakistani militants frequented by foreign fighters, and that some two dozen people were killed.

Both officials said foreign militants were among the dead. They spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing security matters.

The United States has stepped up the pace and intensity of its drone attacks in Pakistan, launching more than 40 last year in a C.I.A. program that is ostensibly covert, but is in fact widely known.

The area struck on Wednesday is a headquarters for the Taliban network group run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which works closely with Al Qaeda and using North Waziristan to stage its insurgency against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.