'Baitullah Mehsud is alive' - US intelligence official


Baitullah.jpg

Baitullah Mehsud from a recent Taliban video.

Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud was not killed in yesterday's airstrike in South Waziristan, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal.

"Baitullah is alive," one official old The Long War Journal. "We're aware of the reports that he might have been killed and we are looking into it, but we don't believe he was killed."

The late night airstrike on a compound operated by Ikramuddin Mehsud, Baitullah's father-in-law, in the village of Zanghra in the mountains near Baitullah's home town of Makeen, killed Baitullah's second wife and two other Taliban fighters. One of Baitullah's two brothers was also reported to have been killed.

Witnesses on the scene immediately said that Baitullah was not among those killed. He reportedly visited his wife but left an hour prior to the attack.

But more than one day after the US strike in South Waziristan, rumors have surfaced that Baitullah was killed in the attack. The local Taliban are said to have cordoned off the area for over 36 hours to prevent outsiders from viewing the attack site, fueling conjecture that Baitullah is dead.

Earlier today, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman speculated that Baitullah was killed.

"We suspect he was killed in the missile strike," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Geo News. "We have some information, but we don't have material evidence to confirm it."

Pakistan's chief military spokesman later denied reports the strike killed Baitullah.

Later today, a US intelligence official told ABC News that "there is strong indication" Baitullah was killed.

"Efforts are under way to determine for certain whether it was Mehsud, but there are hopes that it is him," the official told the television network.

The Taliban have not issued a statement to confirm or deny Baitullah's death. In the past, the Taliban and al Qaeda have released martyrdom statements upon the death of their senior leaders.

Reports of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in Pakistan have been highly unreliable. In the past, al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, Abu Obaidullah Al Masri, Adam Gadahn, Ibn Amin, and Rashid Rauf have been reported killed in strikes, but these men later resurfaced. Similarly, Sa'ad bin Laden was recently reported killed, but he is now thought to be alive. And Abu Khabab al Masri was reported dead several times before he actually was killed in a July 2008 strike.

Pakistani Taliban leaders Mullah Nazir, Mullah Fazlullah, Faqir Mohammed, Omar Khalid, Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Qari Hussain, as well as Baitullah, have in the past all been reported killed, only to resurface later.

Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's most powerful Taliban commander

Baitullah is the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the unified command of scores of local Taliban fighters throughout the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan. He has also allied with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and South Waziristan leader Mullah Nazir to form the Council of United Mujahideen. The group has pledged its support to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and overall Taliban commander Mullah Omar, and has vowed to battle the Pakistan, US, and Afghan governments.

Based out of South Waziristan, Baitullah has become the most prominent Taliban leader in Pakistan. He commands tens of thousands of well-trained fighters, who conduct suicide and conventional attacks against Pakistani, Coalition, and Afghan forces. Since 2004, Baitullah's fighters have defeated the Pakistani Army in several engagements. In January 2008, the Pakistani Army agreed to a cease fire after abruptly ending an operation 10 days into a battle with Baitullah. He has been implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto shortly after her return from exile in late 2007.

Baitullah is closely allied with bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda shelters in Baitullah's tribal areas and maintains scores of training camps and safe houses in the region.

Baitullah has openly stated his intentions to conduct attacks against the United States and the West. He "poses a clear threat to American persons and interests in the region," the State Department said earlier this year, when it offered up to $5 million dollars for information leading to his location or capture.

Possible successors to Baitullah include his cousins Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud. Hakeemullah directs Taliban operations in Arakzai, Kurram, and Khyber. Qari Hussain is a military commander in South Waziristan who also trains children to become suicide bombers. Hafiz Gul Bahadar is also a candidate to take over the Pakistani Taliban in the event of Baitullah's death.



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READER COMMENTS: "'Baitullah Mehsud is alive' - US intelligence official"

Posted by sterndal at August 6, 2009 7:32 PM ET:

if that is true, if he is still alive, then he is a big threat to the US government and private citizens.

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 6, 2009 7:52 PM ET:

Too bad. We're hot on his trail, that's for sure.

Posted by Lisa-in-DC at August 6, 2009 10:26 PM ET:

Darn.

Posted by tbrucia at August 6, 2009 10:54 PM ET:

It's amazing how often speculation passes for intelligence! What ever happened to 'We have no idea if he was or was not killed; we'll get back with you when we're sure....'

Posted by zotz at August 6, 2009 11:22 PM ET:

If the attacks do not kill him he must be severely shaken by them. The CIA attacks are cutting away his base of support. He can't even attend a funeral now without fearing for his life.

Posted by gandalf at August 6, 2009 11:41 PM ET:

Several reports that 7 bodyguards were killed and confirmation that his brother died. General agreement that he was at the compound and that we were waiting for him.
If Baitullah left, his bodyguards and entourage would have left also. That large a group moving while we were watching, we would have lit them up on the spot or in their vehicles.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 7, 2009 1:35 AM ET:

gandalf,

The problem is the source of those reports: Rehman Malik. So far this year, he's said Fazlullah and Omar Khalid (Mohmand TTP leader) were killed. The same sources I spoke to als were telling me to ignore the reports of Zawahiri, Rauf, Baitullah, Fazlullah, Gadahn, etc. last year and this year when everyone was saying they were dead. They may be wrong this time, that is certainly possible. We're now 48 hours into this and no word from the Taliban, nd we should have heard if he was dead by now.

Posted by Render at August 7, 2009 1:41 AM ET:

Zotz: Agreed.

Gandalf: When in a panic they don't always run together with the bodyguards. There have been some notable occassions of every-man-for-himself (in a burkha no less).

===

Pre and post strike intelligence on this one must have been pretty good.

MOVIN
ON
UP,
R

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 7, 2009 2:39 AM ET:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=HomePage&id=26a8cad2-041e-4b88-a4aa-fc0c2e0cbb9f&Headline=Pakistan+Taliban+chief+Baituallah+Mehsud+dead

Is this source reliable? And it may be possible the Taliban held off on announcing his death until after the funeral.

Posted by han at August 7, 2009 3:29 AM ET:

in the past couple of minutes aljazeera says that he died with his wife based on pakistani inteligence sources and that the pakistan mujahedeen council is going to elect a new leader.

Posted by Minnor at August 7, 2009 4:32 AM ET:

"Pakistan's chief military spokesman later denied reports that Baitullah was killed." - LWJ

hyper link says he denied to confirm. Are "denied to confirm" and "denied reports" same?

Posted by My2cents at August 7, 2009 5:12 AM ET:

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

Posted by Neo at August 7, 2009 6:04 AM ET:

Now they think they got him.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/08/world/asia/08pstan.html?_r=1&hp

By tomorrow this may all evaporate. I think I'll wait this one out for a while.

Posted by ConLima at August 7, 2009 6:55 AM ET:

There are some reports that he was on the roof of the home when the attack hit. I say - release the UAV footage.

Posted by yash at August 7, 2009 8:36 AM ET:

Dear Bill,

Baitullah Mehsud is one the many Taliban commanders. He was one of the few Taliban commanders who were acting against Pakistan. Where as all other Taliban commanders were attacking US forces in Afghanistan. Pak has always protected those Taliban attacking USA.
So I just wonder whether killing Baitullah is of any use to the western forces ?

Thanks,
Yash.

Posted by YASH at August 7, 2009 9:05 AM ET:

If he is really dead than I guess its more of a setback to US. Now there will be no more internal pressure in Pak to act against Taliban since the other Taliban commanders are Pak Army friendly.

Posted by ArneFufkin at August 7, 2009 9:28 AM ET:

Yash, the folks that are targeting Taliban HVTs seem to regard Baitullah as something more than "one of the many Taliban leaders".

Posted by ArneFufkin at August 7, 2009 9:30 AM ET:

From FOXNEWS.com: "I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan," Taliban commander Kafayat Ullah told The Associated Press by telephone. He would not give any further details.

So, who knows?

Posted by Render at August 7, 2009 10:34 AM ET:

Yash: Absolutely. Charismatic war leaders with ability are difficult to replace in any situation.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. Stonewall Jackson.

HISTORY,
R

Posted by David M at August 7, 2009 10:51 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/07/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Out of Central Asia/John at August 7, 2009 11:12 AM ET:

Bill: I have crossposted your story on my blog:
outofcentralasianow.wordpress.com Your story and who is waiting to take over if our Drones got him tells us that removing one man does not stop the movement. In fact, it is like hitting a bee's nest with a big stick. Watch out for the repercussions and many ordinary people will pick up a rifle and join the cause. Revenge is mandated. Thanks for your great reporting.

Posted by zakka at August 13, 2009 10:47 AM ET:

So bad. That's for sure.