US drone attack kills Taliban militants
TWELVE militants were killed in an American missile attack that targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, security officials said yesterday, as the United States stepped up the number of strikes, despite Pakistan's objections.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed that its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, had been in the area at the time of the US drone attack but added that he had not been killed.
Mehsud took over the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban when the notorious Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike on his wife's family home in South Waziristan last August.
He has regrouped his predecessor's followers and ordered a series of attacks on Pakistani security-force targets that have claimed more than 500 lives.
The latest US attack follows a warning from the Pakistani government that continuing American drone strikes on its territory will damage relations between the two countries.
Pakistan fears that the troop surge in Afghanistan that has been ordered by US President Barack Obama will be coupled with intensified attacks on militants retreating across the border into its tribal areas.
In the past two weeks, eight drones have hit targets in North Waziristan. The strikes were stepped up after a suicide bomber killed seven CIA staff at a US base in Afghanistan on December 30.
The latest US attack hit two targets, including a former school where Haki-mullah Mehsud had been expected to address his commanders.
According to local security officials, the drones struck a sprawling compound in the Pasalkot area at 7am yesterday.
Two of the dead were described as "foreigners", which is usually a reference to al-Qa'ida figures who collaborate with some Taliban factions.
Although Mehsud's militants have focused their attacks on Pakistan army and intelligence targets in the past three months, he recently appeared on a video alongside the suicide bomber who was said to have killed the CIA agents at their base in eastern Afghanistan.
His forces are believed to have slipped into North Waziristan in order to evade a Pakistan army offensive in October.
So far, very few Taliban commanders have been killed or captured in the operation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)