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CIA Drone Strike Said to Kill Pakistan’s Taliban Chief

Pakistani Security
A Pakistani policeman checks a commuter at a security check point in Peshawar on November 2, 2013 following the killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike in the Pakistani tribal region. Photographer: A. Majeed/AFP via Getty Images

A CIA drone strike in Pakistan killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, according to reports from the region that a U.S. official said were credible.

The death of Hakimullah Mehsud was confirmed today by the Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the South Waziristan tribal area, the Associated Press said. Mehsud, the target of the strike yesterday in North Waziristan, was indicted in the U.S. three years ago for his alleged role in a suicide bombing that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency employees in Afghanistan in 2009.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement that a strike occurred in the region and called it “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Even as the Pakistani government denounces such strikes, it has cooperated with U.S. intelligence agencies in locating, tracking and targeting leaders of the Pakistani Taliban, including Mehsud.

Intelligence on his whereabouts was this time considered to be of medium to high credibility -- a level of confidence that triggered the attack, according to the U.S. official, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

Pakistan’s private cooperation with the U.S. hasn’t extended to U.S. efforts to find Mullah Muhammad Omar and other leaders of the Afghan Taliban, who the Pakistani government considers allies.

Multiple Deaths

Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, has been reported killed several times, only to resurface later. For that reason, U.S. officials have been reluctant to confirm reports of his death. In this case, the reports that he was killed are considered credible, the U.S. official said.

Al Jazeera television reported there were multiple deaths in the strike, which it said targeted a meeting of Taliban leaders. A meeting of Pakistan’s Taliban council today chose Khan Sayed as their new leader, Dawn newspaper reported.

If confirmed, the death would be a coup for U.S. efforts to weaken the Taliban, even as it may complicate Pakistan’s efforts to engage in peace talks with the militants.

Imran Khan, whose party controls the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, has threatened to block NATO supply lines passing through the province in retaliation for what he described as a U.S. attempt to sabotage the negotiations through drone attacks.

“We won’t let these supplies pass even if we have to sacrifice our government” in the province, Khan said today at a press conference in Lahore.

2009 Attack

Mehsud had been accused of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens abroad in the bombing on Dec. 30, 2009. Seven CIA employees were killed and six others injured by a Jordanian double agent who was allowed onto a base in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border in the belief he was bringing intelligence on al-Qaeda.

After the attack, the Pakistani Taliban released a video of the bomber with Mehsud justifying the killings.

Before yesterday’s attack, strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas fell to 14 this year after peaking at 115 in 2010, according to data from the Pakistan defense ministry released by the parliament. There were 67 civilians killed in the strikes from 2008 to 2013, the figures showed.

Amnesty International, a human-rights group, issued a report last week saying U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are sometimes conducted without legal justification and may amount to war crimes. It called on President Barack Obama’s administration to investigate any potential unlawful killings.

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