US drone attack claims 80 lives in Pakistan PDF Print E-mail

ISLAMABAD – What appeared to be the deadliest U.S. missile attack ever on Pakistani soil brought an unusual reaction Wednesday in a country that has previously denounced such strikes as an affront to its sovereignty — silence.

Tuesday's attack killed 80 people, Pakistani officials said, but missed its chief target, Baitullah Mehsud. He is the country's top Taliban leader and its public enemy No. 1, accused of masterminding numerous brutal operations including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The seemingly accurate targeting appeared to point to cooperation between the U.S. military and Pakistani intelligence — despite Pakistani denials. This was possible because Mehsud — unlike some other U.S. foes in the northwest tribal region on the Afghan border — is so reviled in Pakistan.

Missiles apparently fired by unmanned aircraft first struck a purported Taliban training center in South Waziristan, then another barrage rained down on a funeral procession for some of those who had been killed earlier. Mehsud attended the funeral in Makeen village, and panicky militants reported losing contact with the Taliban chief for a short time immediately after the attack, according to radio intercepts cited by two Pakistani intelligence officials.

But the officials said they were later able to determine that Mehsud left the funeral shortly before the missiles struck. The two missile strikes killed at least 80 people, including several senior militants, said the officials, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information. Fifty-five of those killed were at the funeral, they said.

The Taliban gave a slightly lower count: Waliur Rehman, an aide to Mehsud, told the AP that 65 people were killed, including some militants. It was not known if innocent civilians were among the dead, an issue that has drawn outrage in Pakistan and Afghanistan whenever U.S. missiles have been fired. The region is too dangerous for outsiders to enter, making independent confirmation of the attack's details impossible.

Militant leaders have been targeted in dozens of strikes in the past two years from U.S. drones, high-tech, remote control planes used for both surveillance and to fire Hellfire missiles. The U.S. military never comments on such operations. The highest known death toll in earlier suspected U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan was 30.

 
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