WASHINGTON The US Central Intelligence Agency has started using smaller missiles in its targeted killing of al-Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan in hopes of minimising civilian casualties, according to a media report, even though a United Nations expert has called such attacks a violation of international law. Citing unnamed current and former officials in the United States and Pakistan, The Washington Post said in a dispatch published in its Monday edition that the new technology had resulted in more accurate strikes that have provoked relatively little public outrage. According to the report, one such missile was used by the CIA last month in Miranshah. The projectile, which was no bigger than a violin case and weighed about 35 pounds, hit a house there and killed a top al-Qaeda official and about nine other suspected terrorists, the paper claimed. The mud-brick house collapsed and the roof of a neighbouring house was damaged, but no one else in the town was hurt, The Post said. The CIA declined to comment on the article. According to an internal CIA accounting described to The Washington Post, just over 20 civilians are known to have died in missile strikes since January 2009, in a 15-month period that witnessed more than 70 drone attacks that killed 400 suspected terrorists and insurgents. Agency officials said the CIAs figures are based on close surveillance of targeted sites both before and after the missiles hit. Unofficial tallies based on local news reports are much higher. The New America Foundation puts the civilian death toll at 181 and reports a far higher number of alleged terrorists and insurgents killed more than 690. The drone strikes have been controversial in Pakistan, where many view them as an infringement on national sovereignty. In the past the strikes have spawned protests, as well as angry denunciations in newspaper editorials and in speeches by opposition politicians. Last August, Philip Alston, a U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that the U.S. must explain how it is sure it is not killing people indiscriminately with these aircraft. The United States, he said, needed to provide the legal basis on which it was operating, and indicate, in terms of domestic law, who was running the programme, and what accountability mechanisms were in place in relation to that or those organizations; what precautions it was taking to ensure that the weapons were used strictly for purposes that were consistent with international and humanitarian law; and what sort of review mechanism was in place to evaluate what had happened when those weapons had been used.