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Conflicting Reports of Pakistani Leader's Death

Since the suicide bombing attack on United States Forward Operating Base Chapman last December, in which seven Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) officers died, the C.I.A has systematically increased the frequency of its drone missile strikes carried out in the Pakistani tribal area in an effort to eliminate current Pakistani leader Hakimullah Mehsud.  Mehsud had appeared alongside the Jordanian suicide bomber in an internet video posted after the December attack, in which the bomber said that the attack was a response to to the death of former Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.  Mehsud was reportedly killed by a drone missile strike last August.

There were whispers from Pakistan last month that the U.S. had successfully eliminated Hakimullah Mehsud as well, and U.S. intelligence officials yesterday confirmed that they now believe he was indeed killed by a drone strike on January 26.  The official explained that this conclusion represents the “best collective information of U.S. intelligence agencies,” and that the intelligence community has grown “increasingly confident” of this outcome since the strike.  However, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported yesterday that a senior government official said on the condition of anonymity that Mehsud indeed may have survived.

If the U.S. drone strike has in fact killed Mehsud, it would be the latest success for the embattled program.  Although never officially confirmed by the C.I.A. as even existing, and often criticized as either illegal or inhumane by some members of the domestic and international press, the drone program has become an increasingly important tool in our national security arsenal.  Given the lack of risk its use poses to U.S. lives, and the fact that it is our only way to effectively reach the Taliban and al-Qaeda in their strongholds in the Pakistani tribal areas, U.S. officials have come to heavily rely on it.  This reliance is reflected by the speed in which the U.S. government is buying the requisite hardware: in the defense budget and Quadrennial Defense Review released this past week, the Pentagon indicated its plan for a 50% increase in the number of drones in theater over the next five years.

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