At least one suspected U.S. drone fired on a house in Pakistan's volatile tribal region Sunday, killing 20 people in the 11th such attack since militants in the area orchestrated a deadly suicide bombing against the CIA in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.
Four missiles slammed into the house in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan, the same region where a drone strike Thursday targeted a meeting of militant commanders in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to kill Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
The militant leader helped organize the Dec. 30 attack against a remote CIA base in Afghanistan's Khost province that killed seven of the agency's employees and appeared in a video alongside the Jordanian man who carried out the bombing.
Analysts suspect the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida-linked Afghan Taliban faction based in North Waziristan, also helped carry out the CIA attack, the worst against the spy agency in decades.
Since the bombing, the U.S. has carried out eleven suspected drone strikes in North and South Waziristan, an unprecedented volley of attacks since the CIA-led program began in earnest in Pakistan two years ago.
The house targeted in Sunday's attack was being used by Usman Jan, the head of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, intelligence officials said. Five Uzbeks were killed in the strike, but it was unclear if Jan was among them. Jan's predecessor, Tahir Yuldash, was also killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan last year.
The other 15 people killed in Sunday's strike were Pakistani Taliban, said the officials.
Four more militants were seriously wounded, but their identities were unknown, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The U.S. does not usually comment on the drone strikes or their targets, but officials have said in the past that they have taken out several senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.
While the Pakistani government publicly condemns the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, it is thought to have a secret deal with Washington allowing them. Pakistani criticism has been especially muted when the drones have targeted militants who pose a threat to the state, such as the Pakistani Taliban chief.
Mehsud issued an audio message Saturday denying he had been killed in the Jan. 14 drone strike that Pakistani intelligence officials said targeted him in Shaktoi, which lies along the border between North and South Waziristan.
"Let me clarify that I was neither wounded nor martyred in this attack, nor was I present in this attack," said Mehsud in a message that Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq played for an Associated Press reporter. The reporter recognized the voice as Mehsud's.
He said he composed the message because a similar one issued Friday that did not specifically reference the attack was met with doubt that it really proved he was alive.
"A panic among mujahedeen forced me to issue this new message," said Mehsud.
The Pakistani army launched a major ground offensive against Mehsud's stronghold in South Waziristan in mid-October but has resisted U.S. demands to expand its military campaign to target militant groups like the Haqqani network that are more focused on staging cross-border attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials say they have their hands full fighting the Pakistani Taliban and can't afford to open up additional fronts. More than 600 people have been killed in militant attacks in Pakistan since the army launched its South Waziristan operation.
Two anti-Taliban tribal elders were killed in separate attacks in the Bajur tribal area Sunday, said local political officials.
Gunmen shot and killed Malik Abdul Qayum as he was getting into his car in the main town of Khar, said Abdul Haseeb. The attack also wounded Qayum's cousin, he said.
Several hours later, a roadside bomb killed Malik Hukam Khan in the town of Cahrmang, said Ghulam Saeedullah. Khan was a member of an anti-Taliban militia that fought alongside soldiers to expel militants from Bajur last year, he said.