|Drone strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, though the government allows them [EPA]
The second US drone attack in two days in Pakistan's North Waziristan region has killed four people, 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, was killed on Thursday in the strike in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.
"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 officials painted Mansoor as al-Qaeda's chief in Pakistan.
"He died in the missile attacks overnight in Miranshah. His death is a major blow to al-Qaeda's abilities to strike in Pakistan," a senior official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
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 10 suspected fighters, Pakistani officials and villagers said.
The Central Intelligence Agency drone programme 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 northwestern ethnic tribal areas along the Afghan border were resumed on January 10.
Several armed groups, including the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, operate in Pakistan's semi-autonomous regions, taking advantage of a porous frontier 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 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 appears to have quietly supported the programme, which President Barack Obama ramped up after taking office in 2009.
On January 30, during an online question-and-answer forum sponsored by Google, Obama acknowledged the use of drones to make targeted killings for the first time.
The White House has since declined to discuss whether and why Obama had made such sensitive admissions.