By Elena Becatoros and Munir Ahmed
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 11 -- 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.