Faqir Mohammed takes command of Pakistani Taliban


Faqir-Mohammed.JPG

Faqir Mohammed. Click image to view slideshow of Taliban leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The mystery over the status of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud deepened today after his deputy appointed himself acting leader and named a new spokesman for the group.

Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban faction in Bajaur and the second-in-command of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said he has temporarily taken control of the group as Baitullah is too ill to carry out his responsibilities. Faqir insisted Baitullah was alive and that he would step down as acting leader once Baitullah was well enough to resume command.

"I have taken over the leadership of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan]," Faqir told AFP ."Two days ago our shura held a meeting in which my leadership was endorsed." Faqir said Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman Mehsud , two senior commanders who are thought to be in line for Baitullah's command, agreed to his takeover of the Taliban.

"Baitullah Mehsud is alive but he is seriously ill," Faqir continued. "In his absence I announce, as vice-president of the TTP, the takeover of his leadership."

Muslim Khan, the chief spokesman for the Swat Taliban, has been named the new spokesman for the national organization, Faqir told the BBC. Khan emerged today and made a threatening phone call to the commissioner of the Malakand Division, telling him the military must end attacks against the Taliban in the northwest.

Khan replaced former spokesman Maulvi Omar, who was captured during a joint operation by security forces and a tribal lashkar, or militia, in the Mohmand tribal agency. Pakistani officials are claiming that Omar admitted Baitullah Mehsud was killed during the Aug. 5 US airstrike on his father-in-law's compound in South Waziristan that killed his wife and seven Taliban fighters. Omar had previously told the media that Baitullah was not killed in the attack.

Pakistani and US officials have insisted that Baitullah was killed in the Aug. 5 airstrike and that the Taliban has been feuding over his succession. Pakistani officials claimed Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman shot and killed each other during a firefight at a meeting to pick the new Taliban leader. Haji Turkistan Bhittani, a rival of Baitullah's, has floated numerous rumors of internal turmoil within the Pakistani Taliban.

But the Taliban have denied that Baitullah was killed in the strike and have maintained that no clash between Waliur and Hakeemullah Mehsud took place. Both Taliban commanders later spoke to the media and confirmed they were alive, yet Pakistani intelligence officials still claim Hakeemullah was killed.

The Pakistani government has been unable to produce evidence that Baitullah was killed; while the Taliban have yet to release a promised videotape that would confirm Baitullah is alive. Taliban commanders have previously said Baitullah would release a tape once he recovers from his illness.

Baitullah is known to have diabetes and occasionally falls ill from the disease. Some intelligence officials believe Baitullah was at his father-in-law's compound to receive treatment for his diabetes. Pakistani officials previously thought Baitullah died from complications in September 2008, but he later surfaced at a feast celebrating his marriage to his second wife.

US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal refuse to confirm or deny Baitullah's death, contradicting more definitive pronouncements made by National Security Advisor General Jim Jones and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

One official described the reports of an intra-Taliban feud as "highly exaggerated and in some cases manufactured."



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READER COMMENTS: "Faqir Mohammed takes command of Pakistani Taliban"

Posted by Ayamo at August 19, 2009 4:03 PM ET:

This is a surprising move for me. I can't understand it.
Why should they do this?

It would only make sense if Baitullah is alive which is hard to believe from my part of view.

But why would they appoint Faqir Mohammed as a successor?!?
He didn't cover himself with too much glory during the battle for Bajaur.

Hakeemulla would have been a far more better choice.

What do you make of this, Bill?

Posted by Vern at August 19, 2009 4:27 PM ET:

Baitullah is just taking some time off for a dirt nap. He will be back in no time.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 19, 2009 4:34 PM ET:

Ayamo,

First let me say that the Pakistan/Taliban version of Where's Waldo has become tiresome. This thing is going to sort itself out one way or another. Stating the obvious: he's either dead or alive.

The Pakistani claims that Baitullah is dead leaves much to be desired; ultimately the burden of prove is on them to prove he is dead. That doesn't mean he isn't dead, I just don't believe they've made an effective case, and history is not on their side.

I have found the claims of Taliban infighting and battles for succession very, very difficult to believe for the reasons I have outlined in past entries and again today.

I believe that Faqir's assumption of command is an indicator that Baitullah is alive. If Baitullah was to temporarily step aside, it would be the right call for the deputy, who is not believed to be in the running for the top job, to hold the fort in the interim. One of the Mehsuds - Waliur, Hakeemulah, or Qari Hussain - is the natural choice to take over the top slot. It doesn't make much sense to put them in command then yank it from them if Baitullah is to return.

The other possibility is that Faqir is holding down the fort while the Taliban chooses the successor. If there is an internal power struggle, it is not occurring the way it is being portrayed. One big reason I find the battle-at-the-shura accounts so hard to believe (other than no one died!) is who would be in attendance and who would be providing input. No matter how cutthroat some of these Taliban leaders may be, you do not disrespect the likes of Siraj Haqqani or Abu Yahya al Libi or Abdul al Haq, or put their lives at risk, and not pay the price.

The best I can make of all of this, and this is my opinion only, is that Baitullah is either sick (as he has been in the past) or was wounded in the strike (not seriously enough to remove him permanently).

All of that said, here's to hoping I'm dead wrong.

Posted by KaneKaizer at August 19, 2009 4:36 PM ET:

It's possible and in my mind likely that they will simply announce Baitullah is dead some days or weeks from now, but claim that it was a result of the disease rather than a missile. That would relieve them of releasing a video to prove that he is still alive.

Still, one would think Hakeemullah would have been the next in line. I still don't believe the Pakistani government's claim of Taliban infighting, at least not to the extent of their leaders shooting each other.

Incredibly frustrating situation. At least in Iraq when Zarqawi was killed, we knew immediately.

Posted by Ayamo at August 19, 2009 4:43 PM ET:

Thank you, Bill.

And I share KaneKaizer's point of view: They'll announce that he died because of a disease.

Either way Faqir Mohammed seems to be a temporare solution for the TTP.

Maybye they are bargaining for more time.
But it his hard to believe that he will be installed as the next leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

But considering the likeable successors of Baitullah it is hard to believe that the USA and Pakistan did themselves any favors by removing Baitullah ...

Posted by Mr. Wolf at August 19, 2009 4:50 PM ET:

Bill,

I was wondering with all of the drone attacks, do we need lasers on the ground lighting up the target? If so, why doesn't the team provide footage, or at least speak of footage?

If all we need is a GPS coord. then drop a helicopter in after the attack to mop up. I don't want to sound cold-blooded, but if you are going to send an aircraft around the world, shouldn't it be accurate/effective? 30 air strikes and no one there to tell us who we hit? Useless.

Posted by Anti Tal Bill at August 19, 2009 5:44 PM ET:

You cant believe anything anyone of these clown says, this includes The Taliban, The Pakistani Govt, The Afghani Govt, and AQ.

I'm still saying we may have indeed gotten Baitullah. At this point, though, who knows.

Keep up the goodwork on the side BillR.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 19, 2009 6:01 PM ET:

Ayamo / KaneKaizer,

One thing we must remember: the Taliban and AQ have taken pride in being killed in action, while waging jihad, even in airstrikes. This is far more honorable than dying from a disease. I'd imagine Baitullah would rather be remembered as going out in a hail of Hellfire rather than during kidney failure. Just something to think about.

Mr. Wolf,

Others here can answer your question in better detail than I, I will just say there are two main issues: 1) it isn't as easy as it seems to drop special ops troops into highly hostile Indian country on a regular basis 2) even if it was simple, we are saddled with risk aversion.

Posted by zotz at August 19, 2009 6:27 PM ET:

Bill-
What you say is true except for one thing. There is a propaganda war which makes it in their interest to deny that the drones actually hit their target. It would be demoralizing to the rank and file for them to realize that their leadership is vulnerable to the drones. Remember the Vietnamese communists in public always denied that the B-52s were effective whereas in reality it was the weapon that they feared most. The Taliban's propaganda line is that American bombs rarely hit them and kill innocent civilians most of the time. In war no one can be relied on to tell the truth because too much is at stake.

Posted by Mr T at August 19, 2009 6:55 PM ET:

Read illness = injury. I never hear them say he wasn't there at the airstrike. He came to be with his wife which was reported he arrived. A big blast occurred and we can't find him and then he is "sick". Sounds like he was so seriously injured he can't even make an audiotape.

His followers need him and they all know it. To not make a showing is bad for them. He is probably near death and they are doing everything possible to revive him at least to audiotape status. These are all delay tactics. As Bill pointed out, it is good to announce you died in action but is it is also bad that the enemy found you and hurt you. It displays weakness and vulnerability. They are in the middle of those two scenarios. Hence the confusion.

They will play the confusion card for awhile and if he lives trumpet his living with some lame excuse that no one can verify. If he dies, they will probably come out with the truth that he was in the strike but survived for some time.

I wonder if those guys are sleeping in holes inside these compounds and that our missles are striking where they are but not able to penetrate their sleeping quarters so the top leadership is being hit but they are surviving with only some injuries which they hide and after they heal, they come back in video to mock us.

If he is seriously injured, they can not move him easily. There are probably limited facilities available to care for him. P-stan should be looking for him in those places. At worst, they will find other injured militants. Or is that against the rules of law? Kinda like not wearing a uniform and hiding among woman and children.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 19, 2009 7:18 PM ET:

zotz,

They have admitted other commanders have been killed in such a fashion: Nek Mohammed, Liaquat Hussain, Abu Laith al Libi, Abu Suliman al Jazairi, Abu Khabab al Masri, Abu Laith al Masri, Osama al Kini, you can read the full list here:

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/07/us_predator_strikes_3.php

Perhaps Baitullah is too important at this time to admit he was killed in a strike, I do not discount that. I will just say that this does not fit the pattern of past HVT kills and Taliban/AQ admissions.

Posted by jayc at August 19, 2009 7:33 PM ET:

bill,
perhaps the taliban are buying time in this instance so that they can reunite their disparate forces behind a solo commander. just a thought.

Posted by Shade at August 19, 2009 8:28 PM ET:

One thing that sticks out for me with the ongoing discussion whether or not Baitullah was killed in the drone strike is this. When Mullah Dadullah was killed by British forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban denied his death until the Afghan government displayed Dadullah's body to the media.

While there is a difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, this nags at me, the fact that when a high-ranking famous Taliban was killed, the first instinct of the spokesmen was to deny Dadullah's death. I can't help but see a bit of a connection here.

Posted by KP at August 19, 2009 9:44 PM ET:

Mr. Wolf:

The CIA (not the Army or USAF) is running their drones that do the reconnaissance and targeting. They don't put out PR with video.

The US armed forces can't operate in Pakistan so that's up to CIA's SAD and other intelligence agents. They could be following people. Tagging them. Or observing them.

Plus after an attack that's probably guarded by a company to battalian sized group (a three mile cordon?) you aren't going to drop three choppers in there to go hand to hand with the opposition to see if things worked out right.

I've speculated before that (given the talk of DNA confirmation for really obscure attacks) that the CIA has a CSI Wasiristan unit that gets DNA samples from the site in "interesting ways". I doubt you are going to get someone into a compound like this (though that's possible) but I can imagine other sampling techniques (other folks at the site who get blood/body tissues on their clothing) might yield that info. How high does DNA for a body go when you hit it? Can you drone sample it? What about small robot drones on the ground? I'm pretty sure they're creative about what they do.

Another option is to watch and listen to what happens post-strike (we know they did this at least ones because they hit a funeral) then go sample the bodies they buried. Remember they have to bury them within a day. Of course they may not have buried him this time to avoid this -- I'm sure they have some wacky Koranic interpretation that says it's OK to do that so you can "lie" to the kufur.

Why don't they know for sure. I suspect because they hit a building that they had good info for the target but didn't actually see him in the room they hit. This BTW is different from a Pakistani description that said he got hit outside of the building. A building got flattened and you wouldn't do that if you hit him in the open.

And finally when one one of the thermobaric Hellfires goes off in a building a lot of people get killed. You don't have to be exposed to the frag to have your lungs damaged. So I doubt these are well bunkered hideouts.

Finally Zarkarwi survived two 500lbs close hits (airburst so as not to destroy other valuable intel at the site) but his lungs were so damaged he died on the stretcher after the Iraqi and US forces got to the site. Nothing is guaranteed.

I think he's dead. They said they'ed show proof but they haven't -- how difficult is that today? How big a coup would that be? Just because Pak intelligence makes stuff up doesn't mean the Taliban doesn't either. Like other's here I suspect he'll be dead of a "illness" soon.

Of course the next target is now on the list. He's got to wonder how do the Americans find them: "technical means" or humint? Is it one of the people close to him?

Posted by Minnor at August 20, 2009 12:15 AM ET:

Self claims can be looked with rather suspicion. Let us wait for endorsements. Endorsement from Hakumulla or Waliur Rehman would ascertain it as fact that Faqir is chief.

LWJ should look at same suspicion about Taliban claims if not more, at least same treatment as it gives to Pak claims.

For goodness sake, taliban could not deny their spokesman was captured.

Posted by captainjohann at August 20, 2009 1:08 AM ET:

This Bhittani is the chap whom Pearl killer Omar sheriff was protecting. There was this rumour that Omar Sheriff executed Osama Bin laden under orders of Saudi king. Benazir was killed because she revealed this truth.
The struggle is control of Pakistan Taliban by Saudi funded ISI or by others whose origin is unknown.

Posted by saneel at August 20, 2009 3:49 AM ET:

I wonder if those guys are sleeping in holes inside these compounds and that our missiles are striking where they are but not able to penetrate their sleeping quarters so the top leadership is being hit but they are surviving with only some injuries which they hide and after they heal, they come back in video to mock us.

Posted by David M at August 20, 2009 9:25 AM ET:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by Ayamo at August 20, 2009 9:41 AM ET:

@captainjohann :
Never heard about that. Do you have some sources?

---

Personally I think that Baitullah has been killed and the Taliban are trying to buy some time by appointing Faqir Mohammed.

Posted by Tyler at August 20, 2009 10:51 AM ET:

Faqir is getting the job precisely because he isn't a Mehsud. As we've seen, Hakeemullah doesn't play too well with others. The Taliban wants someone that everyone can get around...the Mehsuds, Nazir, the Uzbeks, Mullah Omar, Al Qaeda. Baitullah, however brutal and psychopathic, had some talent for keeping a coalition together and keeping disparate parties happy. Not unlike Zarqawi in that respect, who knew his way around the tribal culture and knew not to cross certain boundaries that would offend the other insurgent groups he needed for AQI's safe havens.

Faqir, given his strong ties with Al Qaeda and his credibility as a Taliban fighter in his own right (dating back to the trenches of Bagram airbase vs. the Northern Alliance) is probably the least offensive choice in the interim. Its an attempt to avoid wholesale collapse of the UMC.

Posted by Cordell at August 20, 2009 12:42 PM ET:

As the saying goes, "The first casualty of war is the truth." Nevertheless, I do trust the CIA's accounts that the UAV crew initiated the attack after they spotted a woman on the roof of the house of Baitullah's father-in-law massaging a man's leg. In Wahabi Islam, that man could only be her father, a brother or her husband -- or else she would likely face the possibility of death. We know for sure that Baitullah's wife died, her father survived unhurt and no other immediate family members were reported killed. This only leaves the possibility that Baitullah was the one whose leg she was massaging. Moreover, we know with certainty that Baitullah was a diabetic and diabetics are extremely prone to leg cramps. Hence, the man getting the leg massage could be none other than Baitullah, particularly since several of his bodyguards were killed as well. Since the CIA reported the man getting the leg massage to be standing, there is little chance he would have survived the attack if the woman giving the massage died. In fact, the initial reports of Baitullah's indicated that half his abdomen was blown away, consistent with the above CIA story. Given that Baitullah has yet to show up on video as the Taliban promised nearly two weeks ago and their now widespread admission of his "illness," (remember that one Taliban commander claimed Baitullah was not only alive but "hail and hearty" after the attack), I have no doubt that Baitullah is indeed dead. The pieces of this puzzle fit together too well to be otherwise.

Posted by patrick at August 20, 2009 1:21 PM ET:

Cordell,

Elementary my dear Watson!.
Sherlock Holmes could do no better,
Your analysis looks good to me.

patrick

Posted by Ayamo at August 20, 2009 1:47 PM ET:

@Tyler:

Faqir might be the least "offensive choice" but do you think that - from the Taliban' point of view - he is the "best" they have to replace Baitullah?

Bajaur didn't go all to well for the Taliban in the end and the inflicted casualties on the Pakistani Army weren't that "good for the Talibans' cause" if memory serves right.

Baitullah Mehsud's death is an important victory for the enemies of the Taliban as he had - as you pointed out - the ability to hold this coalition together and to expand the rule of Tehrik i Taliban dramatically.

Replacing him will be a very difficult part and I doubt that they will bet their money on Faqir Mohammed.

Posted by Mr. Wolf at August 20, 2009 2:23 PM ET:

Thank you for the responses.

The creativity of confirmation sources is no doubt the one aspect of "truth" that we surely do not want the enemy knowing how we know what we know.

I was under the impression that since air superiority is not a problem, a constant "eye over target" for a few days might not be a bad recon mission.

Also, could the Taliban be using Faqir to ferret out some of the inside sources that have given valuable information. He has his own bodygurards, probably will keep a new safe house, and is farther away from core AQ?

Posted by Neo at August 20, 2009 3:14 PM ET:

Cordell,

You've put together the best summation of indicators that Baitullah may well be dead. You can add to the list the conflicting statements made by several within the Taliban after the air strike. Granted those conflicting statements in themselves are unreliable. I'm still not willing to conclude anything with any certainty though.

Beyond that I'm afraid, too much speculation really gets us nowhere.

Posted by Mr T at August 20, 2009 3:20 PM ET:

Safe house being the compound run by his father in law. Uh. we couldn't figure that out?

Well, on second thought, maybe we did.

But why would he stand on his roof? I thought he arrived and midnight or close to that. So he was in the dark up there but we could tell it was a man & a woman. Good cameras and very quiet also. And why would we publish that knowledge?

Posted by ArneFufkin at August 20, 2009 3:35 PM ET:

captainjohann could you elaborate on this Omar Sheriff character? I am aware of a guy named Shakir the Pakis took down a couple weeks ago, I know Khalid Sheikh Mohamed has bragged of his role for years and I'm familiar with an actor of similar name: But who is this player?

Posted by Neo at August 20, 2009 4:01 PM ET:

The Taliban has been fairly flexible about its leadership model. It has widely used major charismatic figures in all fighting theatres. Other figures like Zawahiri are powerful figures who give direction from the background. One could say that Bin Laden is a ghost leader, and has been used effectively as such.

I wouldn't try too hard to draw conclusions from the appointment of Faqir Mohammed. The appointment of a lesser leader could be purely tactical. Most of the stronger figures named may be major clan leaders but really don't have charismatic status outside their own respective clans. There are a number of drawbacks to appointing a strong Pakistani Taliban leader. The first is he becomes a much major target for both the US and Pakistan. There are some indications the Pakistani Taliban intends to hunker down and whittle away at the Pakistani Armies morale. If so, a diffuse leadership structure is suited to gorilla warfare. It is also plausible that Al Qaeda may not want powerful central leaders under these conditions and would find a diffuse leadership easier to control over the long haul.

I'm just adding my two cents to the list of possibilities

Posted by Cordell at August 21, 2009 1:45 AM ET:

Faqir Mohammed might be the Taliban equivalent of a caretaker prime minister after a vote of no confidence took out the former PM. If the competing leaders in the party can't immediately agree on who will succeed the ousted PM, they often mutually agree upon someone who harbors no ambition for command and who poses no threat to the others. His role is just to carry out the mundane aspects of the job under the group's strategic direction until they can hash out the matter of succession.

Posted by Render at August 22, 2009 4:14 AM ET:

Soon, we should probably be hearing about a sudden increase in the execution of "traitors" within their ranks?

That seems to happen on a fairly regular basis after a confirmed hit.

===

I'm not so sure we have as much air superiority over Pakistani air space as we would like to have. Noting that the Pakistani air force has scrambled its F-16's to chase away US drones from time to time and that the Talib have been known to bust out a SAM-7 variant every now and again.

There's a real limited number of jet capable air strips in Afghanistan.

CRITICAL
LIMITATIONS,
R