WASHINGTON - US Predator drone attacks in northwest Pakistan have increased sharply since President George W Bush last year stopped seeking Islamabad's permission and President Barack Obama may keep pace as officials speak of confusion in Al-Qaeda ranks, a major American newspaper reported Sunday. An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al-Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, The Los Angles Times said, citing US intelligence and counter-terrorism officials. Since Aug 31, the CIA has carried out at least 38 Predator strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined, in what has become the CIA's most expansive targeted killing programme since the Vietnam War, the LATimes said. Pakistan has repeatedly criticised the Predator campaign; the attacks are reported to have caused dozens of civilian casualties. "Drone attacks are counterproductive," said Nadeem Kiani, press attache at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. Rather than firing missiles, Kiani said, the US should provide intelligence to Pakistan and "we will take immediate action." But, according to the newspaper, the Obama administration is set to continue the accelerated campaign despite civilian casualties that have fuelled anti-US sentiment and prompted protests from the Pakistani government. "This last year has been a very hard year for them," an unnamed senior US counter-terrorism official was quoted as saying of Al-Qaeda militants. "They are losing a bunch of their better leaders. But more importantly, at this point they are wondering who is next." US intelligence officials said they see clear signs that the Predator strikes are sowing distrust within Al-Qaeda. "They have started hunting down people who they think are responsible" for security breaches, the senior US counter-terrorism official said, discussing intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity. "People are showing up dead or disappearing." The counter-terrorism official and others, who the paper said also spoke anonymously, said the US assessments were based in part on reports from the region provided by the Pakistani intelligence service. The stepped-up Predator campaign has killed at least nine senior Al-Qaeda leaders and dozens of lower-ranking operatives, in what US officials described as the most serious disruption of the terrorist network since 2001. Among those killed since August are Rashid Rauf, the suspected mastermind of an alleged 2006 transatlantic airliner plot; Abu Khabab Masri, who was described as the leader of Al-Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons efforts; Khalid Habib, an operations chief allegedly involved in plots against the West; and Usama al-Kini, who allegedly helped orchestrate the September bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Al Qaeda's founders remain elusive US spy agencies have not had reliable intelligence on the location of Osama bin Laden, the dispatch noted. His deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, remains at large after escaping a missile strike in 2006. But the Predator campaign has depleted the organisation's operational tier, it said. Many of the dead are longtime loyalists who had worked alongside Osama bin Laden. They are being replaced by less experienced recruits who have had little, if any, history with Bin Laden and Zawahiri. US officials say that despite complaints about civilian casualties, the LATimes noted that the Pakistani government's opposition has been muted because the CIA has expanded its target to include militant groups that threaten the government in Islamabad. The success of the Predator campaign has prompted some counter-terrorism officials to speak of a post Al-Qaeda era in which its regional affiliates-in North Africa and elsewhere-are all that remain after the Centre collapses, the dispatch said. "You can imagine a horizon in which Al-Qaeda proper no longer exists," said Juan Zarate, former counter-terrorism advisor to Bush. "If you were to continue on this pace, and get No 1 and No 2, Al-Qaeda is dead. You can't resuscitate that organisation as we know it without its senior leadership."