ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Several missiles fired from U.S. drone aircraft Thursday struck a meeting of local people in northwest Pakistan who had gathered with Taliban mediators to settle a dispute over a chromite mine. The attack, a Pakistani intelligence official said, killed 26 of 32 people present, some of them Taliban fighters, but the majority elders and local people not attached to the militants.
The civilian death toll appeared to be among the worst in strikes carried out recently in Pakistan’s tribal areas by the CIA, which runs the drones. Residents and media reports said as many as 40 people had been killed in all, though the intelligence official disputed that number.
The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack.
“It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.
About four missiles fired from one or more drones hit the meeting, known as a jirga, of two local tribes and Taliban mediators who had gathered at a market in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, according to two residents who live nearby in Miram Shah, the largest city in the region.
The intelligence official said that of the 32 people at the meeting, 13 were Taliban fighters, 11 of whom were killed. The rest of the dead were elders and tribesmen.
Recently discovered chromite mines are common in the area. To keep the mines running profitably, the Taliban — as the reigning authorities — often settle disputes between tribes with competing claims and levy taxes on exports and the mine operators.
After a pause in drone attacks from Jan. 23 to Feb. 20, the pace of attacks has picked up again this month. Some analysts attributed the lull to the CIA’s not wanting to upset negotiations to free Raymond A. Davis, the CIA security officer who was released on Wednesday.