U.S. drone strike kills 45 in Pakistan - officials

Other News Materials 24 June 2009 00:01 (UTC +04:00)

A U.S. drone killed at least 45 Pakistani Taliban militants on Tuesday when it struck after a funeral of an insurgent commander killed earlier in the day, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

U.S. ally Pakistan officially objects to the strikes by pilotless U.S. aircraft though the attack came as the Pakistani army is preparing an offensive against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan on the Afghan border.

The military went on the offensive against Taliban fighters allied with Mehsud in the Swat Valley, northwest of Islamabad, in May and are in the final phase of that operation.

The next target is Mehsud.

"Three missiles were fired by drones as people were dispersing after offering funeral prayers for Niaz Wali," one intelligence official said referring to a Taliban commander who was one of six militants killed in an earlier drone attack.

The army had no information on the attack on the funeral in the remote area under Mehsud's control, a military official said.

Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally accused of plotting the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, had been in the area but was not hurt, a Taliban official said.

The United States has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to Mehsud's location or arrest.

The offensive in Swat came after Taliban gains raised fears for the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a vital ally for the United States as it strives to defeat al Qaeda and stabilise Afghanistan.

The government has ordered an offensive against Mehsud in his South Waziristan stronghold. [ID:nISL498342]

The Taliban have responded with a string of bomb attacks in towns and cities and assassinations of opponents.