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US drone strike hits home of Pakistani Taliban leader

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 9:06 a.m. CDT

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (MCT) - A U.S. drone fired missiles Friday at the residence of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, a top militant with a $5 million FBI bounty on his head who is thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

It was not immediately clear whether Mehsud was killed in the airstrike in the North Waziristan region. The drone reportedly fired two missiles at the compound and a vehicle used by Mehsud, who has been high on the target list for U.S. intelligence forces.

One Pakistani intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak with the media, said there were credible reports that Mehsud was in the compound at the time of the strike. There was no immediate official response or confirmation from the Taliban.

Local news reports said four people were killed, including two of Mehsud's bodyguards, and two were wounded in the attack in the Dande Darpa Khel area of North Waziristan, a lawless region near the border with Afghanistan.

The Associated Press cited a senior U.S. intelligence official, two Pakistani intelligence officials and two Taliban commanders, all speaking on condition of anonymity, saying the Taliban leader was dead. Some reports said his close associate, Tariq Mehsud, also was killed.

However, there have been cases in which top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders were wrongly reported slain. A resident of Miram Shah near Dande Darpa Khel who requested anonymity said Hakimullah Mehsud had lived in the compound for the last year. The resident added that a large number of Taliban fighters had cordoned off the compound Friday and were not letting residents into the area, suggesting that someone important was killed in the strike.

Six drones were hovering over the area, he added, preventing Taliban fighters from entering the compound to retrieve the bodies and help the wounded.

Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan condemned the drone strikes on local television networks, calling them an attempt to sabotage proposed peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban. Khan said the government was sending a three-member delegation to initiate talks with the insurgents.

Hakimullah Mehsud, believed to be in his mid-30s, is among Pakistan's most wanted men. In August 2009, he assumed leadership of the Pakistani Taliban after a drone attack killed the previous leader, his mentor.

Friday's attack came a day after three insurgents were killed in a drone strike on a rebel compound in the same area near Miram Shah.

Journalists and aid organizations are not allowed into the border areas most subject to drone attacks, making independent verification of military and Taliban claims difficult.

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have come under fire at home and abroad. Many Pakistanis view them as a violation of national sovereignty, although residents in the tribal area often support them. Watchdog groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International late last month accused the U.S. of indiscriminately killing Pakistani civilians with its drone program.

In the last week, however, Pakistan's Defense Ministry released written comments in parliament saying just 67 civilians were killed in drone strikes since 2008, compared with 2,160 militants, with no civilians killed since the beginning of 2012.

Those figures were greeted with skepticism by security analysts and critics because the 3 percent civilian death ratio seems to be far below estimates by independent groups. Some political analysts said it suggested that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was trying to accommodate U.S. officials after his recent visit to Washington.

(Los Angeles Times special correspondent Ali reported from Islamabad and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.)

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services

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