June 25, 2009 3:45:28 am
US Drones kept up the hunt for Taliban fighters in the militant stronghold of Waziristan,a day after Baitullah Mehsud is believed to have narrowly escaped death in missile strikes that killed more than 80 militants.
The prowl by the Predator drones continued in the sky over Waziristan as Pakistani Army massed tanks and armoured carriers for a major ground assault against Baitullahs men in Pakistans restive northwest.
The death toll in Tuesdays two US drone attacks in South Waziristan rose to more than 80,most of them militants and some foreign fighters,with 12 more people succumbing to injuries sustained in strikes,Geo News channel reported.
Senior militant commander Khwaz Ali,believed to be a close aide of Tehrik-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud,was among six militants killed in the first drone attack targeting a suspected Taliban training centre near Shabikhel.
A barrage of seven missiles then rained on a funeral procession for some of those killed in the first attack.
Earlier,local officials were quoted by TV channels as saying that Mehsud was at the funeral,with media reports saying he had a very close call. Local officials and intelligence reports suggested militants had lost contact with Mehsud for a while after the attack.
However,media reports,while confirming that Mehsud had visited the village where the funeral took place,said that the militant leader left before the lethal second attack.
Though earlier reports had said that another Taliban commander named Sangeen Khan was killed,his aides later told the media he was safe.
Many of the injured could not be taken to hospitals outside South Waziristan as authorities have blocked key roads in the region ahead of the launch of a military operation against Mehsud and his network.
The Pakistan Army has said it has completed positioning its troops for launching a campaign in South Waziristan.
In Swat,security forces gunned down seven militants in fresh fighting while six Army personnel,including two officers,fell in a Taliban ambush in the same region,raising questions over official claims that the region had largely been cleared of rebels.
Militants ambushed troops returning from a search operation at Charbagh,considered a stronghold of the Taliban,on Tuesday night.
Another 35 militants were killed when Pakistani fighter jets carried out air strikes on Tuesday on Ladha in South Waziristan,another stronghold of Mehsud,destroying several militant hideouts.
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