Major kudos to Barry O or whichever underling pulled the trigger on this one. I still remember when Bush’s Defense Department declined to fire three years ago at a Taliban funeral at which hundreds of jihadis were gathered. Who knows how many innocents died at the hands of those who were spared then. Sixty is an enormous number to be killed in a Predator attack, especially given the angst in Pakistan over America targeting its citizens. I can only assume that either the military had good reason to suspect some very big fish were there or else they felt it was critical to send a message to Baitullah Mehsud that his assassination of a rival jihadi this morning who was partnering with the Pakistani military wasn’t about to go unanswered.
An airstrike believed to be carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.
Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike would be perhaps the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan…
Pakistani jets have aimed at Mr. Mehsud’s hide-outs in recent days, and the funeral in Makeen that was hit on Tuesday was being held for a Taliban commander killed that day.
While the strike on the funeral may have been conducted by the Pakistani Air Force, residents and local news reports uniformly attributed it to a United States drone.
The dead may have included top commanders for Mr. Mehsud. The Geo Television Network, quoting unnamed sources, said that the dead included a trainer of suicide bombers named Qari Hussain as well as a Taliban commander named Sangeen, though there was no way to immediately verify the report.
Honestly, to risk the uproar over killing 60 people, I suspect they had reason to believe that Mehsud himself was present. I have an e-mail out to Bill Roggio asking him what he knows about this but it’s worth flagging now. For what it’s worth, a Taliban official claims Mehsud was “in the area” but wasn’t hurt.
Update: Here’s Roggio’s report at Long War Journal. Big fish galore:
The attack took place in the town of Makeen, a stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, according to Geo News. The US has hit Taliban facilities in the Makeen region three times since June 14. The Pakistani Air Force has also launched several attacks in the region.
These attacks coincided with an important meeting between Baitullah and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders to discuss the military’s operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, Abu Yahya al Libi, Abdul Haq, and two senior deputies of Mullah Abdullah Zakir. The US appears to have targeted al Qaeda’s senior leadership as it met with Baitullah.
Today’s Predator strikes also take place as the Pakistani military is in the opening phase of its operation to destroy Baitullah’s network in South Waziristan.