Baitullah Mehsud from a recent Taliban video.
Unconfirmed reports from Pakistan indicate that Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, died of complications from an illness. But US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal are highly skeptical of the report and see no evidence he is dead.
Baituallah is reported to have died from complications related to “high blood pressure and kidney disease,” Geo TV said this afternoon. There are no further details, but reports from earlier in the week indicated he was in a coma due to complications from diabetes.
Reports of Baitullah’s death are unconfirmed, and US intelligence and Pakistani sources do not believe he has in fact died.
A Pakistani source contacted an official at Geo TV, who said there is “no substantiation” to the claim. The reporter who provided the information to Geo TV “had nothing to back this claim up,” the source told The Long War Journal.
US intelligence believes the rumors are part of a “denial and deception tactic,” which is designed to throw off the military and intelligence off of Baitullah’s trail. With operations underway in Bajaur, Swat and other regions, Baitullah can stay under the radar of intelligence agencies if they believe he is dead.
“It is his best interest for everyone to think he is dying,” a senior US military intelligence source familiar with the fight against the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan told The Long War Journal.
Two senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders have used this tactic in the past. Osama bin Laden has been rumored for years to be suffering from kidney failure, and several times has been reported to have died from the disease. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the renowned Pakistan-based Taliban leader, was rumored to have died of hepatitis several times.
If Baituallah had indeed died, the preparations for his funeral and the change in command for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan would have been detected, sources state. “Baitullah’s stature would ensure his funeral would be massive,” a source stated, while the Pakistani Taliban would quickly move to replace him, particularly with operations ongoing throughout Northwestern Pakistan.
The death of a Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the senior Taliban military leader in Afghanistan, drew tens of thousands of supporters near Quetta in Baluchistan province. ‘Baitullah’s death would eclipse that,” one intelligence source stated.