Peshawar: A massive US missile strike in Pakistan`s lawless Waziristan tribal region on Thursday killed at least 15 militants and triggered speculation that new Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud could be among the dead.
The intense speculation by Pakistani media came as Mehsud, according to Taliban, was in Basalkot village, 70 km south of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan agency, which was hit by four missile fired by US drones.
Military authorities neither confirmed nor ruled out the possibility that Mehsud was among the dead. Several other key commanders were also reported to have been killed in the strike, the seventh this month in the area said to be infested with fighters of Haqqani network of the Taliban.
At least four missiles were fired early this morning at a house and the compound of a seminary in Basalkot village, which is located in an area along the boundary between North and South Waziristan.
Reports said some key militant commanders and foreigners were among the 15 dead. Several others were also injured.
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said there were reports about Mehsud`s presence in the area targeted in today`s drone attack.
However, Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed Mehsud, who became the chief of the outfit after the killing of his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in August last year, was safe and had left the area minutes before the missile strike.
The house targeted in the attack was destroyed. The compound that was struck was reportedly being used by the Taliban as a training camp.
Local residents said they had seen four to six drones hovering over the area after the strike.
Militants cordoned off the area after the strike and prevented people from approaching the site, local residents said.
This was the seventh drone strike in North Waziristan this month. The US has intensified drone attacks in North Waziristan after a suicide strike in the adjacent Khost province of Afghanistan killed seven CIA operatives on December 30.
A video of the suicide attacker beamed on Pakistani and Arabic TV channels showed him in the company of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
However, Pakistan has warned that any increase in drone attacks or ground operations by US forces inside its territory could undermine relations between the two countries.
Following a meeting with US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke yesterday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: "I said despite the partnership that we enjoy... Pakistan feels that it will undermine our relationship if there`s expansion of drones and if there are operations on ground."