US Air Force MQ-1 Predator drone, (Photo: Reuters).
The second US drone attack in two days in Pakistan's North Waziristan region killed four people on Thursday, including a senior militant commander with links to "Al-Qaeda," Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban sources said.
Badar Mansoor, leader of a faction of the Pakistani Taliban with close ties to Al-Qaeda, was one of the four killed in the strike in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, intelligence officials and Pakistani Taliban sources said.
"He was living in a small rented house with his wife and children in Miranshah. He, his wife and two other members of his family died on the spot," a Pakistani Taliban commander told Reuters. He declined to be identified.
Pakistani intelligence officials said the death toll could rise because buildings next to the one targeted were also damaged and people could have been there.
On Wednesday, a US drone aircraft fired missiles at a compound in a village near Miranshah killing ten suspected militants, Pakistani officials and villagers said.
The Central Intelligence Agency drone programme, a key element of the US counter-terrorism strategy in the region, was apparently halted after a November NATO cross-border air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, sparking fury in Pakistan.
The attacks with the unmanned aircraft in Pakistan's unruly north-western ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border resumed on 10 January.
Several militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda, are said to operate in Pakistan's semi-autonomous border regions, taking advantage of a porous border with Afghanistan to conduct cross-border attacks, or plot violence elsewhere.
North Waziristan is also an important base for the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, an Afghan militant faction allied with the Taliban, which the United States says is one of its deadliest adversaries in Afghanistan.
While the Haqqanis say they no longer need havens in North Waziristan and stay in Afghanistan, they are known to still maintain a presence in the Pakistani border region.
The use of the remotely piloted aircraft over Pakistan is opposed by most Pakistani politicians and the public, who consider drone strikes violations of sovereignty with unacceptable civilian casualties.
But despite public opposition, Pakistan has quietly supported the programme, which President Barack Obama ramped up after taking office in 2009.