U.S. Official: 'Strong Indications' Pakistani Taliban Leader Baitullah Mehsud Is Dead

U.S., Pakistani officials await DNA tests for "100 percent" confirmation.

ByABC News
August 6, 2009, 4:13 PM

Aug. 6, 2009— -- "There is strong indication" that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA drone strike that targeted a house Wednesday, a senior administration official told ABC News.

U.S. and Pakistani officials believe that a strike in South Waziristan yesterday "very likely" killed Mehsud. U.S. officials said they had visual and other "indicators" that it was Mehsud, and that there is a 95 percent chance that he is among the dead. Pakistani officials are trying to collect physical evidence to be certain.

Baitullah Mehsud is enemy number one in Pakistan. He is believed to be behind some of the most spectacular attacks in that country, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and suicide bombings in Lahore. U.S. officials consider him a grave threat and the nexus of all terror groups in Pakistan. In fact, the U.S. had a $5 million reward on his head.

If Mehsud's death is confirmed, the Obama administration would have hit one of the most significant terrorist targets in years. Obama's head of counterterrorism, John Brennan, said the President has made the pursuit of terrorists a priority.

"Over the past six months, we have presented President Obama with a number of actions and initiatives against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups," said John Brennan, Obama's head of counterterrorism.

"Not only has he approved these operations, he has encouraged us to be even more aggressive, even more proactive, and even more innovative, to seek out new ways and new opportunities for taking down these terrorists before they can kill more innocent men, women and children," said Brennan.

The missile attack is also said to have killed at least three people, and Mehsud's second wife is thought by U.S. and Pakistani officials to be among them.

Mehsud's network is based in the remote region of South Waziristan, in northwest Pakistan, where the Pakistani army has little control and which the Taliban and senior members of al Qaeda consider a stronghold. The U.S. and Pakistan have been trying to track Mehsud for months.

Makeen, where Wednesday's strike took place, is Mehsud's birthplace and a town he is said to occasionally visit.