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Taliban chief believed alive after missiles hit

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was apparently targeted in a U.S. missile strike on a meeting of militant commanders close to the Afghan border Thursday, but he escaped unhurt, Pakistani officials and militants said. Twelve insurgents were believed killed.

The death of Hakimullah Mehsud would be a major victory for both Washington and Islamabad in their fight against Islamist militants. Mehsud appeared on a video released last week sitting next to the Jordanian militant who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in December in Afghanistan.

Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban movement, which is linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan, has also claimed responsibility for scores of bloody suicide bombings in Pakistan in recent months against military, civilian and government targets.

The U.S. missile strike was the eighth such attack in two weeks in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, an unprecedented volley of drone attacks since the CIA-led program began in earnest two years ago. The surge signals the Obama administration's reliance on the tactic despite official protest from Islamabad.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials and four militants said Mehsud was not among the dead. Mehsud's predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike last August in neighboring South Waziristan.

Taliban chief believed alive after missiles hit 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 11:16pm]

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