ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — CIA drones on Friday killed the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, when they fired on a compound in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani security officials and two commanders of the extremist group. At least two other people were killed.
The loss of Mehsud dealt a serious blow to the Pakistani Taliban, which has killed thousands of Pakistanis in a campaign of attacks and suicide bombings aimed at replacing the secular government with Islamist rule. The group also provided support to a Pakistani-American convicted of a failed May 2010 car bombing in New York's Times Square.
Mehsud has been near the top of the CIA's most wanted list for his role in the December 2009 suicide bombing that killed seven Americans — CIA officers and their security detail — at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. The suicide bomber, a Jordanian double agent, was ushered into the military base to brief CIA officers on al-Qaida, and detonated his explosive vest once he'd reached the inside of the base.
Mehsud later appeared in a video alongside the Jordanian, who said he carried out the attack in retribution for the death of another former Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in an American drone strike in August 2009.
Senior Pakistani officials condemned Friday's operation because it occurred a day before the government was to formally invite the insurgents to hold peace talks. Several experts, however, said that the strikes wouldn't have taken place without the approval, if not the participation, of the country's powerful military.
"This wouldn't have happened … without acquiescence or direct support" from the military and the army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, said Thomas Lynch, a distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies in Washington.
Despite the setback caused by Mehsud's death, the Taliban quickly named a replacement, and the government issued a security alert in anticipation of the kind of retaliatory attacks that followed previous drone killings of top militants.
In Washington, a CIA spokesman declined to comment.
Two Taliban commanders reached by telephone in Miranshah said Mehsud died before he could be brought to a hospital in the town of Miranshah, close to the border with Afghanistan. His funeral was scheduled for 3 p.m. today, they said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.