U.S. Drone Kills Dozens Near Taliban Hideout in Pakistan http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/08/AR2009070800651.html?hpid=topnews
By Joshua Partlow and Haq Nawaz Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 8, 2009; 2:38 PM
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 8 -- For the second consecutive day, unmanned U.S. spy planes pounded suspected Taliban targets in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 44 people, according to a Pakistani official.
The deadliest of the two separate strikes targeted a convoy of five vehicles driving toward the Makeen area, believed to be the headquarters of Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban commander. At least 35 people were killed in the attack in Pakistan's mountainous area along the border with Afghanistan, according to the Pakistani government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Earlier in the day, another suspected American drone fired four missiles on a Taliban hideout in Karwan Manza, in the same region, killing nine people and wounding more than a dozen, the official said, though the toll in both attacks was difficult to verify.
Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas on Wednesday also confirmed that Maulana Fazlullah, a top Taliban commander in the Swat Valley, has been injured in an earlier bombing, but he did not give more details about the circumstances.
Fazlullah was the leader of a Taliban push to establish Islamic law in the Swat Valley, which was once a tranquil tourist destination. His fighters' violent tactics, despite a peace deal with the government, spurred the Pakistani government into a major military operation that has been ongoing for the past two months. Abbas said that the operation in Swat was nearing completion, after killing more than 1,500 suspected fighters.
"We are chasing them," Abbas told reporters. "I want to assure you all and the people of Swat that there is absolutely zero possibility of this leadership returning to the valley. It is not possible."
The injury of Fazlullah is significant because the army has been criticized by Swat Valley residents and Pakistan commentators for not eliminating the upper echelons of the Taliban; he would be the highest-ranking commander to be wounded in the operation. Abbas said there were also reports that Shah Duran, Fazlullah's deputy, has been killed, but he did not confirm them.
The drone attacks in South Waziristan were at least the fourth suspected American bombing of Mehsud's territory in a week and a further sign that the United States has stepped up its targeting of the man considered to be perhaps the strongest Taliban leader in Pakistan. The Pakistani military has said it will send troops into South Waziristan to destroy Mehsud's network.
The U.S. government does not comment as a rule on whether they are involved in drone attacks in Pakistan. But U.S. security officials monitoring events in Pakistan said there were no early indications that top Taliban leaders were killed in the bombings.
Mohammad Noor, a resident who lives near where the bombs hit, said by telephone that in the initial strike missiles hit a mud house believed to be used as a training center for Taliban fighters. The Taliban were keeping locals and officials away from the site of the bombing, Noor said. "The whole area is cordoned off," he said.
While Pakistani officials privately support these American attacks, Pakistani politicians across the spectrum criticize the unpopular bombardments.
"Let the government of Pakistan and the military handle the situation, because the people are reacting and they are not happy," Saleem Saifullah Khan, a senator from the party of former president Pervez Musharraf, said in an interview. "After all, it's bombing; whether it's militants or not, they're bombing Pakistan. As a sovereign country we're not too happy about it. It's counterproductive."
Also on Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the city of Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier province, killing one other person and wounding three, police said.
The bomber launched his attack on Nasir Bagh Road, near a market and residential area where many police live. One witness, shopkeeper Salimullah Khan, said the bomber was dragging a vendor cart that disguised the explosives. The provincial assembly speaker, Karamatullah Chagharmatti, passed the area near the time of the bombing but escaped unharmed, he told local television reporters.
Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.