Hakeemullah Mehsud (left), the Leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi (right), the suicide bomber who carried out the attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official claimed yesterday that the top leader of the Pakistani Taliban is still alive, but the Pentagon said today he is no longer in command of his forces.
An unnamed Pakistani intelligence official said that Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, survived a US airstrike in January, but may have been wounded.
“He is alive,” the intelligence official told The Guardian. “He had some wounds but he is basically OK.”
Senior Pakistani officials, including Interior Minister Rehman Malik, have insisted that Hakeemullah was killed in the Jan. 14 airstrike that killed 17 terrorists, including several Arabs and Uzbeks. Most news agencies have reported Hakeemullah as having been killed in the January strike.
But over the past few months, numerous Taliban leaders have denied Hakeemullah was killed, and Hakeemullah personally disproved one of the reports of his death [see timeline below on the reports of Hakeemullah’s death].
The US Department of Defense said that while the status of Hakeemullah is unknown, there is no evidence he is in control of his forces in the field.
“I certainly have seen no evidence that the person you speak of (Hakeemullah Mehsud) is operational today or is executing or exerting authority over the Pakistan Taliban as he once did,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “So I don’t know if that reflects him being alive or dead, but he clearly is not running the Pakistani Taliban anymore.”
US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal disagreed with Morrell’s assessment.
“While we may not have communications intercepts or other intelligence to confirm he is alive, it isn’t accurate to say that is evidence he is no longer in command,” a senior US military intelligence official said.
“The Taliban and al Qaeda have tightened their operational security in the tribal areas and specifically in North Waziristan due to the Predator attacks there,” the official continued, referring to the US air campaign that is targeting al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Haqqani Network.
US military and intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal have been skeptical of the reports of Hakeemullah’s death since the rumors first began on Jan. 15, 2010.
Timeline on reports of Hakeemullah’s death
January 14, 2010: A US Predator strike in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan targeted a religious seminary, killing 17 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Hakeemullah Mehsud was the target of the attack but it was unknown if he was killed. Pakistani officials claimed Hakeemullah was killed.
January 15, 2010: A US intelligence official told The Long War Journal that “all indications are that Hakeemullah survived the airstrike,” but could not discount reports he may have been wounded. Top Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said “Hakeemullah is alive and safe.” Pakistani officials continued to insist Hakeemullah was killed.
January 16, 2010: The Taliban provided a recording of Hakeemullah, who said he was alive and provided the date to prove it: “Today, on the 16th of January, I am saying it again — I am alive, I am OK, I am not injured… when the drone strike took place, I was not present in the area at that time.” Pakistani officials continued to insist Hakeemullah was dead.
January 28, 2010: The News reported on new rumors of Hakeemullah’s death. An unnamed senior Taliban leader denied the reports. “If you trust me, I can assure you he is safe and sound,” the commander said. “I have spoken to him three hours ago and he was quite well.”
January 31, 2010: Pakistan TV claimed Hakeemullah died on Jan. 17, just one day after he released his tape, of wounds suffered from the Jan. 14 Predator strike. Two unnamed tribal leaders claimed to have attended his funeral at a site in the Mamondzai area of Arakzai. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal maintained that there was no indication that Hakeemullah was killed either during or after the Jan. 14 airstrike, and dismissed reports that he was buried. Azam Tariq also dismissed the report of Hakeemullah’s burial.
February 1, 2010: Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior deputy to Hakeemullah, denied his commander was killed, while talking to the media. Pakistani media reports also claimed Qari Hussain and South Waziristan commander Waliur Rahman Mehsud were killed in the strike that supposedly killed Hakeemullah. The Pakistani government has incorrectly reported Qari Hussain dead several times in the past.
February 2, 2010: The News claimed that Kurram Taliban commander Maulvi Noor Jamal, who is also known as Mullah Toofan, had taken control of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Azam Tariq again denied the rumors and said no new tape of Hakeemullah would be issued, as intelligence services would try to use the information to obtain the current location of Hakeemullah.
February 3, 2010: An unnamed Pakistani intelligence official said Hakeemullah was very likely alive.
February 9, 2010: Samaa TV and Dawn claimed Hakeemullah died while traveling to Karachi for medical treatment for wounded suffered from the Jan. 14 strike. Hakeemullah supposedly died near the city of Multan. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal remained skeptical of the reports.
February 10, 2010: Maulvi Noor Jamal denied reports that he took control of the Taliban, and said Hakeemullah is alive. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had “credible information that [Hakeemullah is] dead but I don’t have any confirmation.”
February 12, 2010: An unnamed Taliban commander said Hakeemullah was alive and would release a tape. “Now I am dead sure he is alive,” the Taliban commander told The News. “I personally held a meeting with him and found him safe and sound.”
March 15, 2010: Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official and Taliban and al Qaeda supporter, claimed his representatives met with Hakeemullah in North Waziristan. “Two of my acquaintances were with Hakeemullah Mehsud on March 9 while Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas had claimed he was dead early last month,” Khawaja said.
April 14, 2010: Senior Taliban commander Qari Zia Rahman denied Hakeemullah was dead, and said he, like Hakeemullah, had been encouraged to remain silent about reports of his death for operational security purposes. The Pakistani government has incorrectly reported Qari Zia Rahman dead several times in the past.