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Suicide attacks mounted by Mehsud have killed prominent officials and politicians, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and hundreds of civilians. The attacks have begun to shift sentiment among Pakistanis against the Taliban. The government has mounted an offensive to clear militants from areas close to the capital, Islamabad, although Pakistani authorities have failed to catch local Taliban leaders.

Pakistani officials have said their next target is the rugged region along the Afghan border where al Qaeda and the Taliban fled after U.S.-led forces toppled the Afghan Taliban government in Kabul in 2001.

Last week, Mehsud narrowly escaped a U.S. drone attack that killed approximately 80 people who were attending a funeral in South Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal region. U.S. officials were watching the funeral by video feed from the drone, which flew high above the scene, concealed by clouds. The drone strike was the closest the U.S. had come to killing Mehsud in the past year, U.S. officials said.

Pakistani officials told The Times that Taliban commander Qari Hussain, who was a close aide to Mehsud, was killed in the attack.

Hussein was one of the main trainers and recruiters of suicide bombers, a Pakistani government official said.

“He was a very important figure to Mehsud,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the nature of his work. “However, Mehsud escaped the attack. Believe me, there will be no tears for Mehsud in Pakistan when he is killed.”

The Taliban is a formidable enemy to the Pakistani people and government, Mr. Riedel said.

He said the Pakistani government’s current military strategy against Mehsud is promising, but only time will tell whether it will succeed.

A second U.S. Defense Department official with expertise regarding the Taliban told reporters that al Qaeda and other Pakistani militant groups created by the Pakistani government to fight rival India have helped Mehsud stage suicide attacks.

The official, who also asked not to be named because of the nature of his work, said there had been a “convergence” of militants based in the tribal areas “supplemented, financed, probably trained, inculcated, by al Qaeda elements” and also “Punjab-based Pakistani terrorist groups.”

“It’s the relationship between the three elements that is producing effective suicide bombers and sustaining a suicide-bomb campaign inside Pakistan,” the official said.