PAKISTANI TALIBAN CHIEF ALIVE ACCORDING TO GROUP'S SPOKESMAN
August 11, 2009
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud is alive, the group's spokesman told CNN on Tuesday -- disputing the Obama administration's contention that he was killed by a CIA missile strike.
Spokesman Maulvi Umar said Mehsud is ill, but safe at an undisclosed location. Once Mehsud is better, he will speak to reporters, Umar said.
A day earlier, a senior U.S. official told CNN that the government was convinced Mehsud was dead based on various indicators at the scene of Wednesday night's attack.
It was an extremely warm night and a short, stocky man meeting Mehsud's description sought refuge from the heat on the roof of the home of Mehsud's father-in-law, according to the official.
Then, the man in question began having his legs massaged on the roof of the home, which indicated to intelligence officials that it was Mehsud, because his legs ached from diabetes and he frequently sought relief.
At that point, according to the senior U.S. official, the CIA moved ahead with the strike, acting on a pre-approved order from the president to attack when U.S. intelligence officials thought they had Mehsud in their sights.
Umar, the Pakistan Taliban spokesman, told CNN that Mehsud does suffer from diabetes and that a drone attack had taken place at his father-in-law's house.
Unlike U.S. officials, Pakistan's foreign and interior ministers have said the government was waiting to conduct DNA analysis to confirm the identity of a man likely killed in the airstrike.
Umar also disputed the government's contention that Mehsud's deputies Hakeemullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman Mehsud were dead.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN on Saturday that one of the two men -- thought to be potential successors -- died in a shootout at a meeting of senior Taliban leaders in south Waziristan.
Umar accused the government of spreading propaganda. "The government is playing a game and trying to trick Baitullah into coming out of hiding by using this propaganda so they can kill him," he said.
In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic escalation in the number of unmanned drones the CIA is using for missile strikes in the rugged south Waziristan tribal region where Mehsud was reported killed.
On Tuesday, 10 Taliban militants were killed and three others wounded in a suspected drone strike that targeted a house thought to belong to Mehsud, a Pakistani intelligence official said.
The attack took place in South Waziristan, which is part of Pakistan's tribal region, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The region has seen a sharp spike in the number of aerial attacks carried out by suspected unmanned U.S. drones on what are believed to be Taliban targets.
An intelligence official said an unmanned aircraft fired two missiles at a militant camp in the mountain town of Kanniguram.
Another Pakistani official said the target was a house used by militants, belonging to Pakistan's Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Pakistani and U.S. officials believe Mehsud was likely killed by a CIA missile strike last week. The Taliban denied it Tuesday.
The United States routinely offers no comment on reported cross-border strikes from Afghanistan. However, the United States is the only country operating in the region known to have the capability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.
Pakistan has complained the attacks have claimed hundreds of civilian lives.
U.S. STRIKES MEHSUD'S STRONGHOLD IN PAKISTAN
By Elena Becatoros and Munir Ahmed
August 12, 2009
ISLAMABAD -- A U.S. missile slammed into a suspected Taliban camp in a lawless Pakistani tribal region Tuesday, intelligence officials and Taliban commanders said, killing six to 14 people, a week after the group's leader reportedly died in a similar strike.
Officials in Washington and Islamabad say they are almost certain that last Wednesday's drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's most wanted man, although Taliban commanders insist their leader is still alive.
The government publicly opposes U.S. missile strikes, saying they anger local tribes and make it more difficult for the army to fight the Taliban. But there has been only muted criticism of the attack on Mehsud, who is suspected of masterminding the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and dozens of other suicide bombings.
Tuesday's missile struck a compound in Mehsud's stronghold, South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, two intelligence officials in Islamabad said. Two other intelligence officials, based in northwestern Pakistan, said the strike killed 14 insurgents. All four spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
However, Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said the missile struck a house, not a militant hideout. "Today, an American missile hit a home in South Waziristan," he said by telephone. "Only innocent civilians were living there, and six of them died."
Tariq also repeated assertions that Mehsud is still alive. "I have said it again and again: Baitullah Mehsud is safe. He is in good health," he said.
As confusion persisted over Mehsud's fate, violence continued to batter the northwest.
Early Tuesday, at least a dozen rockets slammed into the main city of Peshawar, sending residents fleeing. At least two civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded, police said.
Taliban militants often target security outposts in the countryside, but rocket attacks against cities are rare. "It is an act of terrorism, but we don't know who the attackers were," police official Nisar Khan said.
Hours later, insurgents attacked a paramilitary Frontier Corps base outside Peshawar and three of them were killed in the ensuing gun battle, the military said.
Separately, Frontier Corps troops clashed with insurgents in the Khyber tribal region, killing 17, the corps said.