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Senior Taliban commander escapes Pakistan airstrike

  • Story Highlights
  • Army officials: As many as 20 militants killed in attack in the Orukzai Agency
  • Taliban commander Mulvi Hakimullah Mehsud was intended target
  • Mehsud claimed responsibility for suicide car bomb attack a day earlier
  • At least 28 people were killed and about 30 were wounded
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By Ivan Watson
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- A Taliban commander in Pakistan escaped unhurt after an airstrike in the country's turbulent border region Sunday left 16 insurgents dead, a Taliban spokesman told CNN.

As many as 20 militants were killed in the attack in the Orukzai Agency, said Pakistani army officers, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan army spokesman Qari Muhammad said Taliban commander Mulvi Hakimullah Mehsud was the intended target of the attack. A Pakistani intelligence official also confirmed the target was Mehsud.

On Saturday, Mehsud claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack on a convoy of Pakistani security forces in the Hangu region, which borders Orukzai. At least 28 people were killed in that attack and about 30 were wounded. Most of the casualties were soldiers and police.

"We carried out the suicide attack and we will do more until U.S. drone attacks stop in the tribal areas," Mehsud was reported as saying.

Also Saturday, Pakistani officials said at least three people were killed by a missile fired from a suspected American unmanned aerial vehicle in south Waziristan, another violent Pakistani border region.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan routinely offers no comment on reported cross-border strikes. However, the United States is the only country operating in the region known to have the capability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.

Some drone attack have yielded high-profile targets for the U.S. government, such as a New Year's Day missile strike that killed Usama al Kini, the operations director for al Qaeda in Pakistan. He is also the suspected mastermind behind the September 20 suicide bombing at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people.

Pakistan's government has repeatedly complained about the strikes because of rising numbers in civilian casualties. It says the attacks cost lives and undermine public support for its counter-terrorism efforts.

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