- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MIR ALI, Pakistan | Suspected U.S. missiles slammed into a home and a speeding vehicle near the Afghan border Tuesday, killing 20 alleged militants as the U.S. ramps up unmanned drone strikes in northwestern Islamist strongholds, Pakistani officials said.

The eighth missile attack this month in Pakistan killed targets in North Waziristan, a mountainous tribal region that is a base for Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has launched 100 such strikes in Pakistan this year, a major surge over previous years for the drone program that is rarely officially acknowledged by Washington. Nearly all have struck in North Waziristan, where Muslim extremists run a virtual ministate outside the Pakistani government’s control.

At least four missiles were fired before dawn Tuesday in North Waziristan’s Bangi Dar village, two at the mud-brick house and two at the vehicle, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.

Four of the slain were in the vehicle, while at least 11 died in the flattened home.

A different pair of security officials closer to the scene said later that at least 20 were killed. All the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with policy.

The names of the dead were not revealed, but the two security officials said the targets were militants suspected of carrying out attacks in Afghanistan and then fleeing across the poorly controlled border to hide.

The U.S. uses myriad electronic and human intelligence sources trying to pinpoint the locations of high-ranking militants and then kill them. Pakistani officials have protested that civilians also die in the drone strikes, further alienating the population from both the central government and Western forces.

American authorities want Pakistan’s military to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, but Islamabad has resisted, saying it has its hands full with army operations against Muslim extremists trying to take control of territory elsewhere in the northwest.

Pakistan’s U.S.-allied government publicly denounces the missile attacks as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. It has asked Washington to transfer the technology to Islamabad so that the Pakistani army could launch such strikes on its own.