Missiles Slam Pakistan Terror Camp
Sources Tell CBS U.S. Airstrike Killed at Least 15; Some say Leader of Pakistani Taliban May be Among Dead
Suspected U.S. missile strikes killed at least 15 people Thursday at a compound formerly used as a religious school in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, officials said, the eighth such attack in two weeks.
CBS News sources in Pakistan say the sprawling compound had recently been converted into a training camp for Taliban militants, and there were rumors that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was at the camp before the strikes.
Taliban militants in Pakistan denied their leader was killed in the attack, but government and military sources, speaking to CBS on condition of anonymity, said it was possible he was at the site when the missiles struck.
Mehsud is known to have used body doubles as decoys.
Intelligence sources tell CBS that 15 people were killed in the two-missile strike early Thursday morning.
The strike took place in the Shaktoi area, which lies on the edge of Mehsud's territory in South Waziristan.
Locals in Shaktoi tell CBS they've seen Arabs at the compound recently - possibly indicating the presence of al Qaeda militants or other fighters friendly to Mehsud's Taliban.
The strike illustrated the Obama administration's unwillingness to abandon its missile campaign against insurgent targets along Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan. Despite Pakistani protest, the missile attacks have surged in number in recent days.
Nearly all the attacks in recent months have focused on North Waziristan, a segment of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt where some militant networks focused on battling the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan are based. Some of those militants are believed to have been involved in a late December attack that killed seven CIA employees in eastern Afghanistan.
It's a region that the Pakistani military has been wary of treading, partly because the groups have not directly threatened the Pakistani state. The army has struck truces with some of the groups to keep them out of its battle against the Pakistani Taliban - who have attacked Pakistan in numerous ways - in nearby South Waziristan.
Thursday's strike came as Richard Holbrooke, a U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was visiting parts of Pakistan.
The U.S. rarely discusses the covert missile campaign, though in the past American officials have lauded it as a successful tactic that has killed several top al Qaeda operatives as well as Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud's predecessor.
Pakistan formally protests the drone-fired strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and spur more anti-American sentiment among the population, but many analysts believe the nuclear-armed South Asian nation secretly aids the campaign.
During a Wednesday news conference with Holbrooke, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stopped short of completely ruling out the missile attacks, but said there were certain "red lines" that Washington must not cross.
"Pakistan feels that it would undermine our relationship if there is expansion of drones and if there are (U.S.) operations on the ground," Qureshi said.