January 23, 2009— -- The CIA's bombing campaign against al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan continued with two more attacks today, an indication, senior officials say, that President Barack Obama has approved the U.S. strategy that has killed at least eight of al Qaeda's top 20 leaders since July 2008.
The two attacks today in Pakistan were the first since President Obama took office on Tuesday.
Asked about it at his daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, "I'm not going to discuss that matter."
Pakistani officials and villagers told ABCNews.com that 17 people were killed in two successive strikes against compounds in North and South Waziristan.
A senior U.S. official said one of al Qaeda's top 20 leaders may be among the dead today, although it is too soon to be certain.
Since July, the CIA has carried out a relentless bombing campaign against that has targeted the top leadership of al Qaeda, based on a sophisticated intelligence collection effort similar to what was used against insurgents in Iraq.
Eight of the top 20 have been killed in the attacks, according to the U.S. official.
"Al qaeda leaders are freaking out over this," said one person briefing on the bombing campaign. "They have begun to punish local tribesmen who they suspect have tipped off the U.S. to their presence and this is beginning to drive a wedge between the al Qaeda people and the locals."
With the arrest earlier this week by Pakistani authorities of another senior al Qaeda leader, the total number of killed or captured would be nine.
The U.S. attacks have created a firestorm of controversy in Pakistan and some politicians expressed hope the new President would put a halt to bombing campaign.
The new round of CIA bombings came one day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistani officials said the 30-minute call was mostly limited to "pleasantries" but did include a discussion of the need to fight militants in the tribal areas.
Today, some 1000 people attended a rally in Islamabad to protest the latest U.S. bombings.