Drone attack in northwestern Pakistan kills 6

August 27, 2009 8:04:25 AM PDT
A suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at a militant hide-out in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least six people and wounding nine, intelligence officials said. The missiles were fired at a compound in South Waziristan, a rugged, lawless region close to the Afghan border, said the two Pakistani officials on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in South Waziristan in a similar strike on Aug. 5.

The region is now under the control of his close aide, Waliur Rehman.

There were conflicting claims as to the identities of the dead.

One of the intelligence officials said they were believed to be militants from Uzbekistan. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq called the Associated Press soon after the attack and said that women and children were the only victims.

Neither claim could be independently verified. The attack was in a remote area of the tribal region, which is off-limits to journalists and largely under Taliban control. In the past, both the government and Taliban have passed on information that was not true.

The missiles hit in the Kani Guram area of South Waziristan. The same area was targeted in a missile attack on Aug. 11 that killed eight people, intelligence officials said at the time.

The attack came two days after Rehman and another top commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, acknowledged Baitullah was dead, ending weeks of public denials. In the same telephone call to The Associated Press, they announced that Hakimullah was the new leader of the movement, while Rehman was in charge of South Waziristan.

Pakistani officials sought to portray the movement as in disarray since the killing of Baitullah, reporting that Rehman and Hakimullah engaged in a shootout over who should be the next leader. The men denied any split in the movement.

The United States has launched more than 40 missile strikes from unmanned planes on al-Qaida and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border since last year, reportedly killing several top commanders, but also civilians. It does not comment on the attacks.

The missiles are fired from CIA-operated drones believed to be launched from Afghanistan or from secret bases inside Pakistan. They are reported to be piloted by operatives inside the United States.

The Pakistani government publicly protests the attacks, though is assumed to be cooperating with the strikes and providing intelligence for them. It has called on Washington to give the technology for such attacks to Islamabad because its military is capable of using the drones.