Wire: US Drone Kills 80 in Pakistan, Taliban Chief Dodges Strike
Off the Wire:
WASHINGTON, June 24, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that the head of Pakistan's Taliban attended a funeral shortly before a suspected U.S. missile struck, killing about 80 people, two intelligence officials said Wednesday, but sources denied that the leader had a close call.
The Associated Press said Baitullah Mehsud, accused of plotting suicide bombings and the assassination Tuesday of his chief rival, is the target of a looming offensive by Pakistan's military in the South Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan.
AP noted the following details:
Clashes continued Wednesday in the volatile northwest, with a rocket attack at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar killing three officers, local police chief Yasin Khan said. Three rockets were fired at a military base in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, triggering a shootout but no known casualties.The United States has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to Mehsud's location or arrest.
But the army's focus is on Mehsud, who reportedly has up to 12,000 men under his control, entrenched in the lawless tribal areas. Suspected missile strikes killed several people at a purported Taliban training center early Tuesday, then another barrage rained down on a funeral procession for some of those killed in the first attack.
Intelligence officials had said Tuesday night that Mehsud was at the funeral and that militants lost contact with him for a while. Media reports suggested he had a very close call.
Two intelligence officials said Wednesday that although Mehsud had visited the village where the funeral took place, he left before the drone-fired missiles killed 80 people -- reportedly including several senior Taliban leaders -- and wounded dozens more. The two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media, said it was unclear how long before the attack Mehsud left.
(Report from newswire sources.)
Source: Pakistan Taliban chief dodged missile: officials
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