ISLAMABAD (AP) U.S. drones fired eight missiles at a compound owned by a powerful militant commander in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing nine suspected insurgents, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

It was unclear whether the commander, Sadiq Noor, was at the compound in Dre Nishter village in the North Waziristan tribal area during the attack. Noor is the most important commander for Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent Pakistani militant focused on fighting in Afghanistan.

The nine suspected militants who were killed were believed to be Bahadur's fighters, said the intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the covert CIA-run drone program in Pakistan in detail.

The strikes have caused tension between Washington and Islamabad. They are extremely unpopular in Pakistan because many people believe they mostly kill civilians, an allegation disputed by the U.S.

Pakistani officials regularly denounce the attacks as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but the government has supported some of the strikes in the past. That cooperation has come under strain as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated.

Pakistani officials say they want the drone strikes to stop and are asking the U.S. to feed intelligence gathered by the pilotless aircraft to Pakistani jets and ground forces so that they can target militants.

U.S. officials say Pakistan has proved incapable or unwilling to target militants the U.S. considers dangerous, so the CIA drone campaign, considered the most effective tool in the U.S. counterterrorist arsenal, will continue.

Pakistan allegedly has a nonaggression pact with Bahadur, the militant whose men were targeted Monday, though the country's military has never acknowledged that. Pakistan has also refused U.S. demands to go after the Afghan Taliban as well as the Haqqani network, one of the most dangerous militant groups fighting in Afghanistan.

Pakistan says its forces are stretched too thin targeting domestic insurgents at war with the state. But many analysts believe the government is reluctant to target militants with whom it has historical ties and could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Also Monday, a Pakistani court ordered police to protect an Afghan couple who eloped and feared being murdered by the bride's relatives, said police officer Kamal Hussain.

Miryam and her husband, Hewad, fled Afghanistan and settled in Abbottabad, the northwest city where U.S. commandos killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden last year. They were arrested by police for allegedly entering the country illegally but pleaded that their lives would be in danger if they returned to Afghanistan.

The high court in the northwest city of Peshawar took up their case and ordered the police to provide the couple with accommodation, food, clothes and proper security, Hussain said. The judges scheduled another hearing for next week.

Women who are seen as sullying a family's honor are often killed in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, conservative Muslim societies. The court's ruling to protect a couple fleeing such danger in Afghanistan is unusual.


Associated Press writer Riaz Khan contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan.