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DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - A suspected U.S. missile strike killed at least six people Wednesday, hours after the top U.S. military officer told Pakistani leaders that America respected Pakistan's sovereignty amid a furor over American strikes into Pakistan's northwest.
According to a U.S. Embassy statement, Mullen "reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries."
President Bush made a similar statement about Pakistan's sovereignty in July after meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Washington.
Since then, suspected U.S. missile attacks inside Pakistan have intensified, and U.S. commandos staged a helicopter-borne ground assault in a South Waziristan village Sept. 3.
American officials complain Pakistan has not done enough to keep militant groups from using the tribal belt as a base to stage attacks in Afghanistan. The tribal areas are semiautonomous regions where the Pakistani government has traditionally had limited influence.
Many Pakistanis say the country is being made a scapegoat for Western failures in Afghanistan and contend the cross-border attacks only fuel militancy.
But it insists it is doing its best to flush out militants and paying a heavy price. It points to the deployment of 120,000 soldiers in the northwest, heavy losses by security forces, and recent military offensives that have drawn a wave of retaliatory suicide attacks by the Taliban.
One such offensive, against insurgents in the Bajur border region, has garnered U.S. praise amid signs it is helping reduce violence on the Afghan side of the border.
On Wednesday, Pakistani troops backed by jet fighters killed at least 19 suspected insurgents there, officials said. The army says more than 700 suspected militants and 40 soldiers have died in six weeks of fighting. It declines to estimate civilian casualties.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army's chief spokesman, told the AP on Tuesday that Pakistani commanders had received orders to fire on any intruding forces following the Sept. 3 cross-border raid.
Some analysts said it was unlikely Pakistan would risk losing billions in American aid by targeting U.S. soldiers or aircraft. Civilian leaders have stressed that they must solve the issue through diplomacy.
"We cannot pick up guns and say that 'here we are coming,'" Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn News television Wednesday. "I don't want to say anything which can jeopardize this relationship we have with the Americans on the issue of terrorism."