US drones fired 10 missiles at a house in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border yesterday, killing at least 25 people, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The strike came a day after Pakistan’s army chief denounced such attacks, and could further sour already deteriorating relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Also yesterday, hundreds of militants attacked a checkpoint in a northwest Pakistani district along the border overnight and into the morning hours, killing 14 security troops, officials said – a show of the insurgents’ continued strength despite army offensives against them.

The missiles hit Spinwam village in North Waziristan, a tribal region home to Islamist militants that target US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The intelligence officials said civilians were believed to be among the dead, and several people were wounded.

Although Pakistan has long denounced the drone-fired missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, it is widely believed to secretly co-operate with at least some of the attacks.

But relations have sunk to new lows after an American CIA contractor in January shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him. A March missile strike that allegedly killed dozens of innocent tribesmen also angered Pakistani leaders.

The US seems intent on using the drones, nonetheless. Last week, just two days after a visit to Washington by Pakistan’s spy chief, a US missile strike killed several alleged militants and drew condemnation from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

During a visit here on Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, accused Pakistan’s military-run spy service of maintaining links with the Haqqani network, a major Afghan Taliban faction.

The Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency has insisted it cut those ties after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Still, many analysts and US officials suspect Islamabad may be trying to maintain its links to the Haqqanis so that it can use them as a means of retaining influence in Afghanistan – and keeping a bulwark against arch-rival India – after the Americans leave.

A Pakistani army statement later rejected “negative propaganda” by the US, while army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said his troops’ offensives against insurgent groups in the northwest are evidence of Pakistan’s “national resolve to defeat terrorism”.

He also slammed the ongoing US missile strikes. Those strikes nearly always hit North Waziristan, where the Haqqanis are based and the one tribal region along the Afghan border where the army has not staged an offensive, despite US pleas.

While officials from both nations have raised the level of rhetoric, they also say they want to keep the partnership intact.

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