At least 45 suspected militants were killed by missiles launched by U.S. drone aircraft in Pakistan's northwest, local intelligence officials said on Tuesday, one of the largest death tolls to date in the controversial air bombing campaign.
Coming a day after Washington announced an $800 million delay in military assistance amid worsening U.S.-Pakistan ties, the attacks could exacerbate tension between the two uneasy allies in the war against militants.
The attacks started on Monday night, when remotely piloted drones fired nine missiles into a militant compound and at a vehicle in North Waziristan, killing 25 suspected insurgents, local intelligence officials said.
Another strike hours later in South Waziristan killed five suspected militants.
Then on Tuesday morning, a drone fired two missiles at another compound in North Waziristan.
"The missiles were fired as militants sitting in a vehicle were entering into a house used by them as a hideout," an intelligence official said, adding that 15 militants were killed in the strike. "The house is on fire."
There was no independent confirmation of the death tolls, and militants often dispute official death figures.
It was the second-largest death toll in a day in the unacknowledged U.S. drone campaign against militants in Pakistan's northwest. In June 2009, about 70 suspected militants were killed in a drone attack in South Waziristan.
Most of the strikes have been concentrated in South and, especially, North Waziristan, mountainous tribal regions on the Afghan border that shelter militant groups friendly with Pakistan but who are attacking U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"Of course the number of casualties is very high and it will add to the already strained relationship," a senior Pakistani security official told Reuters.