US drones prowled the sky over Pakistan’s South Waziristan on Wednesday, a day after one of the aircraft attacked a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, killing about 70 militants.
The US attack came as the Pakistani army is preparing an all-out assault on Al Qaeda ally Mehsud, who has been accused of orchestrating a campaign of bombings in Pakistan, including the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The push into South Waziristan on the Afghan border looms as the army is finishing off an offensive in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, launched after Taliban gains raised fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan’s future.
Pakistan is a vital ally for the United States as it strives to defeat Al Qaeda and stabilise Afghanistan, where thousands of extra US soldiers are arriving.
The pilotless US drone strike late on Tuesday, on a funeral for one of six militants killed in a similar strike earlier in the day, suggests closer coordination between the United States and Pakistan.
But Pakistan, which officially objects to such strikes, is unlikely to confirm that in a country where many people are suspicious of the alliance with the US in its global campaign against militancy.
Intelligence officials said late on Tuesday 45 people had been killed in the drone attack as mourners were leaving the funeral.
On Wednesday, they said about 70 people had been killed. A Taliban spokesman said 65 had been killed.
Close shave for Mehsud
A Taliban official said Mehsud had been in the area but was not hurt. Security officials and villagers said the Taliban had sealed off the site.