Baitullah Mehsud dead; Hakeemullah new leader of Pakistani Taliban


Hakeemullah-Mehsud-new.jpg

Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud at a press conference in Peshawar in 2008.

Two senior Pakistani Taliban leaders thought to have been at odds have confirmed that the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is dead. The leaders also confirmed that Hakeemullah Mehsud is now the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, dispelling the rumors of rampant infighting to choose Baitullah's successors.

Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud said that Baitullah died on Sunday night from wounds suffered in the Aug. 5 US Predator strike in South Waziristan. The two Taliban leaders spoke via the phone from the same room to an The Associated Press reporter.

"He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike and he was martyred two days ago," Hakeemullah Mehsud told The Associated Press. Waliur repeated the statement to confirm that Baitullah had been killed.

Both leaders stated that Hakeemullah is now the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Waliur would take command of the Taliban in South Waziristan.

Waliur's confirmation of Hakeemullah's position as the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan should put an end to the rumors of internal fighting within the group. Over the past few weeks, Pakistani governmental and intelligence officials have claimed that the two leaders openly fought and killed each other at a shura meeting to choose Baitullah's successor. After the alleged incident, both Hakeemullah and Waliur spoke to the media and denied the rumor. But the Pakistani government, led by Interior Minister Rehman Malik, have insisted that Hakeemullah is dead and is being replaced by his twin brother.

Pakistani officials also claimed that a recent series of clashes and assassinations proved the Taliban were in disarray, but it is appears that most of the events were related to existing rivalries outside of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Taliban added to the confusion last week when, on Aug. 19, Faqir Mohammed, Baitullah's second in command, said he temporarily took control of the Pakistani Taliban until a new leader would be selected by the Taliban shura. On Aug. 22, Faqir said Hakeemullah was replacing Baitullah because an illness was preventing the latter from performing his duty.

That same day, Waliur said he had previously been deputized by Baitullah to manage the affairs of the Pakistani Taliban and that a new leader would be chosen within five days.

Background on Hakeemullah Mehsud:

Hakeemullah, who is also known as Zulfiqar Mehsud, is Baitullah's senior deputy. He is a cousin of Baitullah and of Qari Hussain Mehsud, the notorious Taliban commander who trains child suicide bombers in South Waziristan.

Hakeemullah is one of the Taliban's most able commanders and a rising star in the Pakistani Taliban. He commands the Taliban forces in Arakzai, Khyber, and Kurram tribal agencies, as well as in some regions in Peshawar. In December 2008, Hakeemullah imposed sharia, or Islamic law, throughout Arakzai.

Hakeemullah has been leading operations against NATO's supply lines in Khyber and Peshawar. His forces have been behind raids that have led to the destruction of more than 600 NATO vehicles and shipping containers. The raids have also destroyed two vital bridges. Pakistan has closed the Khyber Pass to NATO traffic six times since September 2008 because of the attacks. The raids on the supply columns moving through Khyber have forced NATO to search for alternative supply routes into Pakistan.

He has also taken credit for a series of suicide attacks and complex assaults in Lahore and Peshawar. He claimed the attacks under the guise of the Fedayeen-e-Islam.

Pakistani security forces and the US have tried to kill Hakeemullah. He was the target of a series of Pakistani strikes in the Arakzai tribal agency in mid-April. On April 1, the US targeted a meeting in Arakzai with a Predator attack aircraft after receiving intelligence that Hakeemullah might be in attendance.



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READER COMMENTS: "Baitullah Mehsud dead; Hakeemullah new leader of Pakistani Taliban"

Posted by Anti Tal Bill at August 25, 2009 10:46 AM ET:

Ha. 100% settled. Baitullah Mehsud is down for the count. Next Target.

Posted by Cordell at August 25, 2009 11:21 AM ET:

Cordell on August 9, 2009:

"Finally, the Taliban have good reason to lie this time in order to gain time to decide upon and announce his successor. While reports of shootings between rival commanders at the Taliban shura are dubious at best and probably disinformation, Baitullah's authority and personal charisma held contentious factions together. Their leadership undoubtedly realizes that their organization is vulnerable to infighting with his death until a chosen replacement can exert his own authority. When that happens, the Taliban will announce that Baitullah was critically wounded by the U.S. strike and later died of his wounds to preserve their credibility."

The Taliban are becoming all too predictable.

Posted by Mr T at August 25, 2009 11:34 AM ET:

So, his illness was firemouthblastitis. A common malady in those parts. Symptoms includes a ringing in the ears and sore throat.

Sounds like his father in law and driver turned him in although that didn't work out too well for them unless they intended the money to go to someone else. The truthful Taliban not so much this time around.

I hope the P-stan govt is going after his replacement as hard as they went after him. They are more vulnerable during a change of leadership like this as communications open up to get basics established.

Posted by jayc at August 25, 2009 1:15 PM ET:

...And there you have it. Mehsud passes due to a severe case of "hellfire flu."
With the capture of Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar, may I suggest a replacement? Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf. You Army guys might remember him as the infamous Baghdad Bob. He certainly would give the Pakistanis a run for their money.

Posted by Ayamo at August 25, 2009 2:47 PM ET:

Baitullah is dead. Good.
Hakeemullah the new leader. Not good.

As a person on this foum once said:
"The US might wish for a resurrection of Baitullah."

I believe that Hakeemullah has the ability to lead the TTP even better than Baitullah did it.
And Baitullah did an excellent job until he overreached a bit with Buner.

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 25, 2009 4:11 PM ET:

Surprise, surprise. I thought they'd announce that he died of illness. In any case, good to know the ghost of Baitullah Mehsud won't be coming back to haunt us.

It doesn't matter to me if he died immediately on August 5 when the strike hit, or if he indeed died on the 23rd. If he spent weeks in agony before succumbing to his wounds, that's fine with me.

Sure would be a shame if the Pakistani Army declared victory without launching the offensive into SW with his death.

Posted by Faraz at August 25, 2009 4:17 PM ET:

"He certainly would give the Pakistanis a run for their money"

May I ask you a question "jayc"

Whos side you are? Taliban or Pakistan

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 25, 2009 4:53 PM ET:

This is a big feather in the hat of those who support the Predator campaign. It is good that this entire saga is over and the outcome was positive. Pakistan's version of Where's Waldo became tedious.

I said in a comments thread a few back that they'd say he died of injuries, as it is honorable to died while fighting jihad. I'd bet that is how Baitullah would like to be remembered. I've maintained all along that they have been truthful about their leaders being killed in these strikes.

We certainly can question the Taliban's timing on the release of the announcement of Baitullah's death. We probably won't know the timeframe of when he died for years, if ever, unless an enterprising Pakistani journalist sticks his neck on the block. I suspect he was seriously wounded in the strike and died later - within the last week or two. There definitely was some horsetrading on who would take over and we should have expected that (I said it the day after he was first reported killed, see here: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/08/analysis_baitullahs.php). I think we can safely say the battle at the shura meeting was bunk.

It seems clear the Pak military/intel waged a pretty clumsy IO campaign after the strike in order to sow dissent with the Taliban. It didn't work, but had another effect: the US media pretty much bought the story, which will influence the decision makers.

And that all I have to say about that.

Posted by ed at August 25, 2009 5:59 PM ET:

WHEN IS THE FUNERAL ?
I AM SURE WE WOULD LIKE TO SEND SOMETHING.

Posted by natej740 at August 25, 2009 6:18 PM ET:

He suffered for 2 weeks it was the will of allah....lmao

This is great news i see a 500lb JDAM from a Reaper in Hakeemullah's future. The faster we can kill these guys now the more damage it will do to them....Imagine if we keep taking out there leaders what it will do to there moral.....

Posted by Paul Hirsch at August 25, 2009 9:31 PM ET:

Good coverage on this story, Bill. Yours is the site I trust.

Posted by crosspatch at August 26, 2009 2:01 AM ET:

So Hakeemullah has the title. It will be interesting to see what he can do with it.

Posted by Alexandra Matine at August 26, 2009 5:11 AM ET:

I think this is a test for the fragile unity of Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP).

Do you think a violent power struggle will ensue?

Posted by Peter at August 26, 2009 8:59 AM ET:

Well for the Taliban "believers" and fans, the evidence is there (just ask Baitullah) that Hellfire really does exist.

Maybe the US should develop a missile called "Paradise"...

It has a nice ring to it, or should I say, "boom".

Posted by David M at August 26, 2009 9:41 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/26/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Lorenz Gude at August 27, 2009 2:54 AM ET:

Thanks Bill for the summary in the above comment. It clarifies your view of the Pakistani claims and their possible impact through the media. As usual your work demonstrates that the MSM too often lack knowledgeable observers of military events and they have a tendency to get lost in tactical detail, politics, ideology - or in this case - disinformation. You really perform a valuable service. Thank you.

Posted by T Ruth at August 27, 2009 11:20 AM ET:

I like to read it here first before the ny times or whatever else so that i don't need to get in a muddle, with rumour and unconfirmed propaganda in the soup of the day!

Shura shoot-outs, twin-brothers, what-not! With such fertile imaginations, who needs poppies!

Keep up the diligent work, Bill. And yes, thank you.