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The U.S. military reportedly launched missile attacks this week targeting Mehsud and his allies.

Missiles apparently fired by unmanned aircraft first struck a purported Taliban training center in South Waziristan, then another barrage rained down on a funeral procession for some of those who had been killed, Associated Press reported.

The second attack appeared to be the deadliest U.S. missile attack ever on Pakistani soil, killing an estimated 80 people, according to the AP. Mehsud reportedly escaped.

A U.S. intelligence official for South Asia, who spoke on condition that he not be named because of his work, said the upcoming operation comes amid signs of improvement in Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capability.

The officer cited three reasons for optimism: the size of the Pakistani force involved, a shift in Pakistani public opinion to support the effort and expectations of new tactics adopted by the Pakistani military to “minimize some of the problems that have been associated with past military operations.”

Recent Pakistani military operations in the Swat Valley have been hailed as a success by the Pakistani government and U.S. defense intelligence officials, who concur that the Pakistan military has cleared more than 80 percent of the militants from that region.

The question U.S. officials ask is whether Pakistan can hold areas it seizes from militants, which would mark a shift from past operations where Pakistan’s military would fight, leave an area and the Taliban would return.

That change in strategy is a hopeful sign, defense intelligence officials told reporters at the Pentagon last week. They spoke to reporters on condition that their names not be revealed because of the sensitive nature of their jobs.

Recent terrorist attacks since late May have been attributed to the Taliban retaliation over the government offensive in Swat.

Once the Waziristan offensive begins, Mr. Riedel said the militants will push back hard.

“The Taliban and al Qaeda recognize that they are in a fight for the future of Pakistan,” he said.