Deadliest Strike Yet in Pakistan Drone War

    • By Nathan Hodge Email Author 
    • June 24, 2009

    Baitullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan’s Taliban, may have been the target of a deadly drone strike that claimed dozens of lives at a funeral in northern Pakistan, but details are still emerging about what looks like the most dramatic and deadly employment of drones in the U.S. military’s undeclared war in Pakistan.

    CNN, quoting unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials, says the strikes killed at least 55 people, including three top Taliban commanders. Al Jazeera puts the death toll somewhat higher, saying around 60 people were killed as they dispersed after funeral prayers in the Makeen district of South Waziristan. Reuters, quoting Pakistani intelligence sources, puts the toll at 70.

    The incident is part of an escalating drone war that has sparked serious controversy in both Pakistan and the United States. It also comes as Pakistan readies an offensive against Mehsud: Pakistani newspapers are also reporting the arrest of some of the Taliban leader’s fundraisers in Karachi.

    Pakistan’s The Nation has details on a first strike that preceded the funeral: A drone fired three missiles into a militant stronghold near Makeen village, northeast of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials told The Nation that attack killed six militants and destroyed a compound, a bunker and two vehicles.

    A follow-on strike apparently targeted the funeral service for individuals killed in the first attack. Mehsud — who is suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and has a$5 million bounty on his head — reportedly paid a visit to the village where the funeral took place, but managed to dodge the strike. The Associated Press quotes two intelligence officials as saying Mehsud left the scene before drone fired the missiles.


    Whether Mehsud was the primary target — or the others attending the funeral — is open to question; Agence France-Presse quotes (again, unnamed) Pakistani officials as saying “mostly militants” were killed in the drone strike. Nevertheless, U.S. and Pakistani authorities are also fighting a war of perceptions in parallel with the drone strike. If it emerges that a large number of civilians were also killed or injured, it could have the potential to spark more ire in Pakistan, where public opinion has reportedly begun to shift against the Taliban.



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