U.S. Strike Kills 20 in Pakistan

U.S. missiles struck a militant training camp in Pakistan's tribal district of North Waziristan on Wednesday, killing 20 fighters close to the Afghan border, security officials said.

The camp in the Shawal area was run by fighters loyal to Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose loyalists attack in Afghanistan, and was targeted by five US missiles at around 12:00pm (0700 GMT), the Pakistani officials said.

"The death toll is 20. It is likely to go up," a senior security official told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity. Foreign and militants from Pakistan's central Punjab province were thought to be among the dead, he added.

Local officials in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, also confirmed the attack and the death toll.

Local residents described the camp as a major training centre on the top of a hill surrounded by trees and ice cold natural springs.

The al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network and foreign militant networks are also known to operate in the remote mountains of Shawal, enveloped in thick forest.

Wednesday's strike came two days after U.S. missiles killed 18 militants in neighboring South Waziristan, then the deadliest strikes for months.

Washington has called Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal region the most dangerous place on Earth and the global headquarters of al-Qaida, where Taliban and other al-Qaida-linked networks have carved out strongholds.

Pakistan has come under mounting American pressure to open a ground offensive in North Waziristan, considered the premier bastion of Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants, since Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.

But Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all operations in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, last week played down "hype" about the prospect of an imminent offensive.

"We will undertake operation in North Waziristan when we want to," he told reporters. Many analysts see the drone strikes as compounding pressure on Pakistan to take action into its own hands.

The drone strikes are hugely unpopular among the general public, who are deeply opposed to the government's alliance with Washington, but U.S. officials say the missile strikes have severely weakened al-Qaida's leadership.

The United States does not officially confirm Predator drone attacks, but its military and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy the armed, unmanned aircraft in the region.

Thirteen attacks have been reported in Pakistan's tribal belt since U.S. commandos found and killed the al-Qaida founder in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad, before flying off with his body and burying it at sea.

The raid profoundly jolted Pakistan's security establishment, with its intelligence services and military widely accused of incompetence or complicity over the presence of bin Laden close to a military academy.

Pakistani officials said they believed al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri died in a drone attack on Friday in South Waziristan, but neither his family nor U.S. officials say they have any confirmation of his death.

Pakistan is on the frontline of the US-led war on the Taliban and al-Qaida, and bomb attacks across the country have killed more than 4,400 people in the last four years -- blamed on militants opposed to the government's U.S. alliance.