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By Alamgir Bitani
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Eight Islamist militants were killed in a U.S. missile strike in northwest Pakistan on Friday, officials said, after three policemen were killed in a bomb blast.
The attack came shortly before the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which oversees the drone strikes, met government leaders in Islamabad for talks that covered U.S. strategy in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The United States has carried out 46 attacks with its pilotless, missile-firing aircraft in northwest Pakistan this year as its forces in Afghanistan have faced an intensifying Taliban insurgency.
The latest strike, the second this week, targeted a fortified militant compound and a vehicle near the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a lawless ethnic Pashtun region on the Afghan border and a major al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuary.
"Eight people have been killed," an intelligence official in the region said. "All of them are militants," he said later, though adding their identities were not known.
Pakistan officially objects to the strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty, even though its army has been battling militants in neighbouring South Waziristan since last month.
U.S. officials say the drone strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to decry the attacks in public.
"A WAR GOING ON"
The army went on the offensive in South Waziristan on the Afghan border on October 17, aiming to root out militants who escalated their war against the security forces in 2007.
The United States, weighing options for how to stem an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan, has welcomed the Waziristan offensive but is keen to see Pakistan tackle Afghan Taliban factions based in lawless enclaves along the border.
Five militants and four soldiers were killed in the latest clashes in South Waziristan, security officials said.
U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday to end the Afghan war before he leaves office, adding he would soon announce the results of a long-awaited strategy review.
Pakistan is worried that a U.S. troops surge could see fighting spilling over the border but it is also keen to see a robust U.S. commitment that would convince the Taliban to talk.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met CIA director Leon Panetta and told him U.S. Afghan policy must take into account Pakistan's concerns, Gilani's office said.
The United States was fully conscious of Pakistan's pivotal role in fighting militancy and in the restoration of stability in Afghanistan, Panetta was cited as saying.
The militants have responded to the South Waziristan offensive with a barrage of bombs in towns and cities, with Peshawar in the northwest bearing the brunt.
Of eight bomb attacks in the country this month, six have been in Peshawar which is near the Afghan border and is also close to militant strongholds in tribal areas.
In the latest attack, three policemen were killed and six wounded when a roadside bomb blew up their vehicle in Peshawar shortly after midnight.
The violence has rattled investors in Pakistani stocks but the main index ended 0.60 percent higher at 9,306.36. (Additional reporting by Hafiz Wazir, Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)

Reuters