Reports of Baitullah's death are false, sources say


Baitullah.jpg

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.



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READER COMMENTS: "Reports of Baitullah's death are false, sources say"

Posted by C. Jordan at September 30, 2008 5:29 PM ET:

CNN has picked up the story and are reporting the rumor

http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/09/30/taliban.official.dead/index.html

Posted by Kidartbai at September 30, 2008 5:40 PM ET:

Bill, correction in your report, Jalaluddin Haqqani is an Afghan by birth and nationality, not Pakistani. This is why Karzai at one time offered him the position of Prime Minister.

Posted by Thanos at September 30, 2008 6:09 PM ET:

We saw similar rumors around Bin Laden a couple years back in the Aug-Sep time frame, it was all distraction while AQ shifted strategy.

Posted by NS at September 30, 2008 10:16 PM ET:

KidartBai,
Bill called Haqqani "Pakistan-based" Taliban leader - that does not mean he attributed Pakistani nationality to him. There are Aghan based Taliban leaders too..

Posted by Andre at October 1, 2008 2:36 AM ET:

That's pretty sick!

Posted by David M at October 1, 2008 11:24 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/01/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by UJMi at October 1, 2008 3:52 PM ET:

Hmm...ok few points:

1. Its a weird coincidence that all these terrorists end up having kidney issues!
2. Bill wrote about USA being on track of Mehsud, in fact USA has been avoiding striking on him even once!
3. I really doubt that Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan would have wanted a large scale funeral of his, as that would have sparked attention and possibility of strike by Pakistani forces. Pakistanis have been on zero tolerance towards Mehsud at least, all along.

Mullah Dadullah comparison would be wrong, Dadullah was not that much a danger to "Pakistan" therefore reaction to his funeral cannot be compared to one which would have been for Mehsud.

I have seen people die from Kidney failures on even state of art machines in fully equipped hospitals after going into comas. So when I am told that in some remote corner of some agency this guy is still alive, I find it hard to believe.

Posted by Bill Roggio at October 1, 2008 4:13 PM ET:

"Bill wrote about USA being on track of Mehsud, in fact USA has been avoiding striking on him even once!"

Well then you'll have to explain the strike in Makeen, UJMi.

As for the celebrations, the Taliban and tribes have had large gatherings for cannon fodder and low level commanders.

Your statement that Pakistan didn't view Dadullah as a threat really summarizes the problems with the Pakistani military and government in a nutshell, doesn't it? Dadullah is known to have sponsored camps in Pakistan that trained suicide bombers. Some of the same bombers struck inside Pakistan. But you're right, its no threat to Pakistan.

Posted by flyonthwall at October 1, 2008 8:58 PM ET:

It appears that Mehsud and bin Laden have in common, Type 1 Diabetes, which is apparently their primary illness. Kidney destruction is a consequence of chronic high blood sugar. Neither will have longevity without vigilant disease management, and both seem to be too grandiose to manage the challenges of illness management. Allah be praised.