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U.S. drone strike kills senior militant in Pakistan: officials

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The second U.S. drone attack in two days in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region killed five people on Thursday, 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 with close ties to al Qaeda, was one of the five killed in the strike in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, intelligence officials and Pakistani Taliban sources said.

“Badar Mansoor was living in a rented house here. He died in the drone strike this morning, and we have confirmation of five deaths,” a Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters.

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 U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at a compound in a village near Miranshah killing 10 suspected militants, Pakistani officials and villagers said.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program, a key element of the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in the region, 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 unruly northwestern ethnic Pashtun areas along the Afghan border were resumed on January 10.

Several militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, operate in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous border regions, taking advantage of a porous border 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 militant 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 has quietly supported the program, which President Barack Obama ramped up after taking office in 2009.

Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN; Writing by Qasim Nauman; Editing by Chris Allbritton