|Drone attacks have more than doubled in 2010, prompting much protest from Pakistan (GALLO/GETTY)
At least 24 people have been killed in three suspected US drone missile strikes in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber region.
Pakistani intelligence and government officials said the barrage of missiles struck two villages in Khyber's Tirah valley along the Pakistan-Afghan border on Friday.
"We have initial reports of some 24 suspected militants killed in three attacks today," one
intelligence official in the region said.
It could not be immediately verified from independent sources if all the dead were anti-government fighters, who often dismiss official death tolls in such attacks.
The missiles, fired from drones, hit houses in the villages of Speen Drang and Shandana, located in the same valley where another suspected US drone attack left at least seven people dead a day earlier.
Strikes stir anger
Most of the estimated 100 missile attacks this year inside Pakistan have taken place in North Waziristan, a tribal area effectively under the control of Taliban and al-Qaeda groups.
Pakistani officials protest the strikes, but they are believed to have secretly authorised at least some of them. Analysts also say targeting information for many of the attacks is likely to be provided by Pakistani intelligence officials.
The missile attacks have been credited with killing many top ranking fighters, but they have also stirred nationalist anger in Pakistan due to high numbers of civilian deaths.
The frequency of the attacks has more than doubled this year compared to 2009, suggesting the US administration sees the tactic as a key to reducing the strength of fighters planning attacks in Afghanistan.
The US does not as a rule confirm drone attacks, but its military and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the aircraft in the region.