Saturday, February 14, 2009

Was Missile Strike Aimed at Mehsud?

Baitullah Mehsud, as the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, has proven to be a scourge of the Pakistani government. Was the latest U.S. missile attack aimed at him?

wo missiles fired from American pilotless drones killed up to 32 people, including Arab and Uzbek fighters of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in South Waziristan on Saturday morning, according to a Pakistani intelligence official and local residents.

The attack, which occurred between 9:30 and 10 am, targeted an area close to Makeen, the headquarters of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud.

The intelligence official said the missiles had hit a mud-walled compound owned by a local resident, Roshaan Khan, in an area said to be a hub of local and foreign fighters aligned with Mr. Mehsud and that they could have been intended for Mr. Mehsud himself. But Mr. Mehsud was not among those killed, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

If Mr. Mehsud was the target of the attack, the intelligence official said, it would be one of the first times that American missiles were aimed at the Pakistani.

And another interesting tidbit:

The attack followed the statement in Congress on Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the pilotless aircraft take off from a base inside Pakistan.

“As I understand, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” Ms. Feinstein said during a hearing attended by the director of U.S. national intelligence, Admiral Dennis C. Blair. In his testimony, Admiral Blair said that the drone attacks had achieved their goal. “Al Qaeda today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago,” he said.

It's hardly unimaginable that the Pakistani government maintains two faces about these attacks; private glee that we're targeting Talibani militants in their country, and public condemnation to suit the mood of their countrymen (who are not at all happy with the repeated attacks and were not hesitant to tell special envoy Richard Holbrooke that very thing earlier this week.) I'm not a savvy diplomat, but it seems to me that revealing that the Pakistani government is complicit in the attacks was probably a bad move.

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