This morning, US drones fired multiple missiles on two homes in the district of Ladha, South Waziristan Agency, killing at least six and injuring five others. Pakistani officials say that two “extremist commanders” were among those killed, but they lacked information on the owners of the homes. Sources also say the death toll could rise.
The attack is the first in the recent spate of US strikes to target the home district of Tehreek-e Taliban (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud. The enigmatic leader, accused of involvement in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was most recently in the news when reports of his death emerged earlier this month. The reports, according to the TTP, were greatly exaggerated, and Baitullah’s doctor said he simply had an unspecified kidney problem.
Baitullah has been a sometimes ally, sometimes foe of the Pakistani government. He negotiated a peace deal with the Musharraf government in 2005 under which his forces would halt attacks on government targets in return for a military withdrawal from the Mehsud tribe controlled portion of South Waziristan. He has been the TTP’s leader since late 2007.
The United States has taken a much more hostile stance toward Baitullah, with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte demanding earlier this year that the Pakistani government commit to “bringing Baitullah Mehsud, the head of this extremist group in South Waziristan – capturing him and bringing him to justice.”
The Pakistani military has largely stayed out of South Waziristan, as per the agreement, but his launched massive assaults against TTP targets in the restive Swat Valley, particularly Bajaur Agency. Yesterday, the TTP made yet another offer to lay down its arms in return for an end to the violence in the region. So far, the Pakistani government is not reported to have responded to the offer, but has enforced new curfews in anticipation of another major offensive in the area.