- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan | A suspected U.S. missile strike killed a wife of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud at his father-in-law’s house Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence and military officials said.

Mehsud associates acknowledged a woman was killed but would not confirm her identity. They said Mehsud was not at the South Waziristan home during the attack, which authorities said also killed a second person.

The missile strike could indicate that U.S. intelligence aimed at tracking down the notorious Taliban leader is getting sharper, and that those hunting him are getting closer.

South Waziristan is part of the northwest tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan where Taliban and al Qaeda leaders - including possibly Osama bin Laden - are thought to be hiding. Dozens of U.S. missile strikes have landed in the tribal regions in the past year, and lately they have focused on targets linked to Mehsud.

Two intelligence officials and one army official, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the missile strike had destroyed the home of Mehsud’s father-in-law, Akramud Din, and that two people had been killed, including the second of Mehsud’s two wives. Under Islam, men are allowed to have up to four wives.

One intelligence official said agents were trying to get details about the second person who died. A Mehsud associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said Mehsud was not in the house hit by the strike in the Jangara area.

The information is nearly impossible to confirm independently. South Waziristan is remote, rugged, dangerous and largely off-limits to journalists. In addition, militants tend to quickly surround sites hit by missile strikes and spirit away the bodies, making definitive physical proof of deaths tough to get.

The U.S. Embassy had no comment Wednesday. Washington generally does not acknowledge the missile strikes, which are fired from unmanned drones. In the past, however, U.S. officials have said the missiles have killed several important al Qaeda operatives.

The United States has a $5 million bounty on Mehsud’s head, considering him a threat to its interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban commander has been accused of involvement in the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a charge he has denied. He has also been suspected in dozens of suicide attacks in Pakistan.

If confirmed, the death of Mehsud’s wife is a sign authorities are gaining on Mehsud, a leading analyst said.

“I think they seem to have good intelligence; there is no doubt about it,” retired Pakistani army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood said. “They are closing in, and they are keeping the pressure on these people.”

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