Pakistani officials say suspected U.S. missile strikes in the country's northwestern tribal region have killed a senior al-Qaida leader, Sheikh al-Fateh.
Al-Fateh, believed to be about 50-years-old, is described as al-Qaida's operational commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some accounts list him as the third-ranking member of al-Qaida's leadership - a position he held since May, when another prominent al-Qaida commander, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, was killed in a similar attack.
Pakistani officials said al-Fateh and three other militants were traveling through the North Waziristan tribal area when a missile explosion demolished their vehicle. News reports indicate the incident took place either late Saturday or Sunday.
The United States has never officially acknowledged that its unmanned aircraft, or drones, fly over Pakistan to launch missile strikes against militants. However, news reports this week quote unnamed U.S. officials as saying the CIA has carried out 20 attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of September - the most operations ever in a single month.
Pakistani officials have protested that the drone strikes are a violation of their national sovereignty.
According to Pakistani authorities, the latest suspected U.S. missile strike, on Tuesday, killed four militants in the South Waziristan tribal region.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan have intensified a cross-border bombing campaign to prevent militants in northwestern Pakistan from staging raids inside Afghanistan, and also to disrupt Pakistani militants' plans for future terrorist attacks aimed at Western targets.
A Pentagon spokesman told VOA Tuesday that only in rare instances do U.S. forces enter Pakistani territory. He was referring to an incident last week in which two U.S. helicopters flew into Pakistan to pursue militants who had attacked a NATO outpost in Afghanistan.
The spokesman said the helicopters were acting in self-defense to suppress fire aimed at them from inside Pakistan.