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Senior militant commander among the dead; first-ever attack on militant leader’s hometown
 
 
Mushtaq Yusufzai & Irfan Burki
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
From Print Edition
 
 

 

PESHAWAR/WANA: About 80 people, including a senior commander of the Baitullah Mehsud-led militants, Khwaz Wali Mehsud, were killed and several others sustained injuries in two separate attacks by US spy planes on a suspected militant hideout and funeral prayers at Lattaka village of Ladha tehsil in South Waziristan Agency on Tuesday, private TV channels reported.

 

However, militant sources said the death toll in the two drone attacks was around 70-80.A US drone on Tuesday morning fired three missiles at a suspected militant hideout at Lattaka village, killing six militants, including senior Taliban commander Khwaz Ali. Khwaz Ali was said to be one of Baitullah Mehsud’s close and trusted commanders.

 

Five other people killed in the attack were said to be local tribal militants.Tribal sources said it was the first-ever attack by US spy planes on the Shabikhel area of South Waziristan — hometown of Baitullah Mehsud.

 

Seven other militants injured in the air attack were said to be low-level tribal militants.The house where the militants were holed up was destroyed in the missile strikes. Sources said two pick-up trucks parked outside the house were also damaged in the air strikes by US spy planes.

 

Tribal sources said rescue work for retrieving bodies of the slain militants and the injured people was started later as the drones were still hovering over the town even after the attack on the house. They said bodies of the militants and the injured people were retrieved later when the drones disappeared. According to sources, bodies of majority of the killed militants were badly disfigured beyond recognition.Later, when the militants and villagers offered funeral prayers of the deceased militants at the village graveyard, two more missiles were fired on the venue.

 

Sources close to the militants told The News that majority of the people after attending funeral prayers of the slain militant commander Khwaz Ali had started leaving the venue and few were there to have a final glimpse of the late Taliban commander when came under missile attack. They said two US drones all of a sudden appeared over the town and fired two missiles on the gathering killing over 60 people, majority of them militants.

 

A government official based at the nearby Razmak town in North Waziristan told The News by phone that thick smoke billowing out of the spot could be seen from distant villages.There were reports that senior militant commanders, including Baitullah Mahsud himself had arrived there to attend funeral of the slain militant commander Khwaz Ali.

 

Some reports said dreaded militant commander and master-trainer of suicide bombers Qari Hussain and prominent Afghan Taliban commander Maulvi Sangeen were also killed in the missile attack.

 

It could be a serious setback to Baitullah Mahsud and his network if Qari Hussain was really dead in the attack.However, sources close to Maulvi Sangeen Zadran denied his presence at the funeral.

 

ìHe did not attend funeral of the people died in drone attack in South Waziristan. Let me assure you he was not there and is safe,î said one of his close militant colleagues, but wished not to be named.

 

He said senior Taliban commanders had very earlier stopped travelling parts of South Waziristan especially after the government launched military operation against Baitullah Mahsud.Also, he claimed important militant commanders always avoid attending gatherings like funerals, marriage ceremonies and public meetings due to security concerns.

 

Sources in Makeen said the injured could not be shifted to hospitals outside the restive tribal region as all roads had been blocked by the security forces to stop infiltration of the militants.It is pertinent to mention that US drones targeted militant hideouts at a time when Pakistani security forces launched offensive against Baitullah Mahsud and his fighters in South Waziristan. The governmentís strategy this time seems different than the past.

 

The government on one hand is pounding militantsí positions by jet fighters and gunship choppers and on the other creating splits among the militants affiliated with Baitullah Mahsud.Third part of the government strategy is to seek support from resourceful Nato and US forces based in Afghanistan against the militants. The Tuesdayís two separate attacks by the US drones were said to be part of that strategy.