More than 21 US drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since May 2. — Reuters photo

MIRAMSHAH: A US drone strike in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal belt along the Afghan border on Wednesday killed at least 18 people, DawnNews reported.

The casualties occurred when the drone fired two missiles, destroying a vehicle and a compound near Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal district.

It was not possible to independently confirm the officials' account of the attack because the region is too dangerous for independent reporting.

Locals and rights groups say civilians are regularly killed in the drone strikes. There are never public investigations into those claims.

Washington began the missile program that targets al-Qaeda and the Taliban on the Pakistani side of the border in 2005, but stepped up the pace in 2008 and again when the Obama administration came into office. At peak times, there can be as many as three or four strikes per week.

US officials do not publicly talk about the covert, CIA-run program, but privately say it is crucial to keeping al-Qaeda under pressure in one of its main international sanctuaries, as well weakening insurgent factions in Afghanistan.

But the program is a source of tension between the US and Pakistan, which protests the strikes, saying they fuel militancy in the country. Over the last six months, ties between the two nations have grown increasingly strained, complicating US goals for withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The US strikes are deeply unpopular among the Pakistani public, who see foreign military action on Pakistani soil as a violation of national sovereignty.