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US drone strikes kill 18 Pakistani militants, sources tell NBC

Updated at 10:09 a.m. ET: PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Eighteen suspected militants were killed in three separate American drone attacks in Pakistan's South Waziristan on Saturday night, military and government sources told NBC News. 

Pakistani military officials said the drones fired 10 missiles and pounded three different militant compounds in the Babar district. Eighteen people died in the drone attacks, said the officials, who asked not to be named because they were not allowed to speak to the media.

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

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The militants targeted were led by Hakimullah Mehsud and had set up sanctuaries in the mountainous district, about 85 miles northeast of Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan tribal region. Mehsud's fighters often target the Pakistani army. 

The death toll could rise as dozens of militants were present in the compound during the drone strikes, NBC sources said. 

Tribesmen in the adjoining Razmak area of the North Waziristan region told NBC News that they had heard heavy blasts overnight but could not confirm if the explosions were drone strikes.

Islamabad opposes the use of U.S. drones in its territory, but is believed to have tacitly approved some strikes in past. The drone campaign also infuriates many Pakistanis who see them as a violation of their country's sovereignty. Many Pakistanis complain that innocent civilians have also been killed, something the U.S. rejects. 

Pakistani security forces conducted a massive military operation against the militants in South Waziristan in October 2009 but spared the area targeted in the overnight attack.

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A top Pakistani Taliban commander, Maulvi Nazeer, was killed in a drone attack on Wednesday, along with his senior commanders and fighters in South Waziristan.

He was considered pro-government because he and his men had signed a peace accord and pledged not to fight against Pakistani forces. He was affiliated with the Afghan Taliban and fought U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, an estimated 6,000 tribesmen demonstrated in Azam Warsak, which is about 10 miles from Wana, to protest the killing of Nazeer.  They pledged to continue fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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