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Missile Strike Kills 10 Militants In Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- At least 10 militants were killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in South Waziristan region, the same area where Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is said to have been killed on August 5, officials and residents have said.

The missiles targeted a house where militants were being trained near the village of Ladda, in the heart of the Mehsud tribe's territory, the officials said.

Hamdullah Mehsud, a resident, said three missiles hit the large high-walled house.

"So far, eight bodies have been pulled out of the rubble," he told Reuters. Five people were wounded, he added.

A similar attack on August 5 hit the house of Baitullah Mehsud's father-in-law in a village in the Makeen area of South Waziristan.

Pakistani officials say Mehsud, his second wife, and bodyguards were killed in the attack. However, Taliban commanders deny the death of their leader.

Claims, Counterclaims

It's very difficult to independently verify the claims and counterclaims because Mehsud tribal lands are very remote and under the control of the Taliban.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said credible intelligence reports suggested Mehsud was being medically treated for a stomach ailment at the house of his father-in-law when the missiles struck.

"According to credible evidence, Baitullah Mehsud is dead but we are trying to work out evidence in terms of DNA tests and statements of family members," the minister told the parliament on August 10.

Given that there are thousands of Taliban fighters in the region, the notion of anyone going in to dig up graves to obtain samples from the corpses to try to match DNA with the Taliban leader's relatives seems unlikely, analysts say.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones said there were "pretty conclusive" reasons to believe Mehsud had been killed.

However, three senior aides to Mehsud, including two possible successors, say their leader is alive and challenged the government to produce evidence of his death.

Analysts say that in a fluid situation the government will be maximizing any opportunity to demoralize the Taliban and create rifts between rival factions while the question of Mehsud's successor remained open.

If Mehsud is dead, analysts said the Taliban's reluctance to admit it was probably aimed at closing ranks to reinforce unity and reduce anxiety within the movement while the leadership chooses a replacement.

Mehsud's aides conceded that Mehsud, who suffers from diabetes, has been ill, raising suspicions that they are merely preparing the ground for announcing a successor without conceding Mehsud's death.