Pakistan’s interior minister and a senior intelligence official confirmed Wednesday that Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is dead, though some Taliban officials continue to issue denials.
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Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is dead, top Pakistani government officials and Taliban leaders confirmed Wednesday, though some figures in the Al Qaeda-linked network deny the claim.
Rumors have swirled about Mr. Mehsud’s status since he was reported to have died from injuries sustained in a US drone strike in mid-January. If the reports are confirmed, his death would mark the second Pakistani Taliban leader killed by the US in six months. Similar confusion also surrounded the death of the previous commander, Baitullah Mehsud.
The Associated Press reports that Pakistan’s interior minister and a senior intelligence official confirmed that Mehsud, who was in his late 20s, had died, though neither gave details about his death. “I have credible information that he’s dead but I don’t have any confirmation,” Pakistani daily Dawn quoted Interior Minister Rehman Malik saying on Wednesday. Mr. Malik also said that Qari Hussein, a senior Taliban commander and one of Mehsud’s possible successors, may have also been killed.
But details of exactly where he died still varied. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Taliban claim Mehsud was wounded in a drone strike Jan. 14 in Shaktoi, a village in South Waziristan, and died Sunday in the southern Punjab province city of Multan, on his way to Karachi for medical treatment. Pakistani security sources, meanwhile, claimed he died in the tribal areas, not in Multan. And the Associated Press quoted a tribal elder as saying he had attended Mehsud’s funeral in late January in the Mamuzai area of Orakzai. (See a map of the region here.)
The New York Times reported last month that American intelligence was 90 percent sure that Mehsud was already dead.
While the Los Angeles Times reports that the Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday confirmed Mehsud’s death, the Wall Street Journal reports that a Taliban spokesman on Tuesday denied that Mehsud had died, and Dawn reports that two Taliban officials also issued denials. The Journal also reports, however, that there are signs that the long-rumored event may have taken place.
But in one indication he may be dead this time, there appears to be serious jockeying to succeed him, said tribal elders and midlevel Taliban fighters. They said two men had emerged as likely successors: Wali-ur-Rehman, a prominent Taliban fighter who was passed over for the top job in August, and a relatively unknown commander, Maulvi Noor Jamal.
The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month on Mehsud’s possible successors.
While Mehsud’s apparent death may mark a psychological victory for the US, it will likely do little to help the military campaign against the Taliban. The organization was brutally successful in launching attacks after the US killed the previous commander in August, as the Los Angeles Times notes.
After Baitullah Mehsud’s death last summer, the Taliban was able to regroup and launch some of the deadliest attacks against Pakistanis in years, including the Oct. 10 commando-style raid against the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, a sprawling and heavily guarded complex. The attack left 14 military officers and civilian workers dead.
“Obviously, it’s a great setback for them in terms of morale and organizational problems. There’s no doubt about it,” said Talat Masood, a security analyst and retired Pakistani general. “It will take time for them to recover, but they will definitely recover because they have support in those tribal areas.”