Senior Taliban commander gunned down in North Waziristan


Pak-Taliban-most-wanted.jpg

Eight South Waziristan Taliban commanders, pictured in a 'wanted' poster: 1. Hakeemullah Mehsud, 2. Waliur Rehman Mehsud, 3. Qari Hussain Mehsud, 4. Azam Tariq, 5. Maulvi Azmatullah, 6. Mufti Noor Wali, 7. Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, 8. Mohammad Anwar Gandapur.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, a senior leader who was appointed interim emir for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan last fall after the death of the group's leader in a drone strike, has been gunned down in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

Asmatullah, his driver, and bodyguards were ambushed and killed as they were driving near Darga Mandi in the Ghulam Khan area of the Pakistani tribal agency. Family members and Pakistani officials confirmed his death, according to Dawn. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has not released an official statement announcing his death.

No group has claimed credit for killing Asmatullah, who has been the target of several assassination attempts, according to The News. The likely culprits are rival Taliban commanders, Pakistan's military intelligence service, and a shadowy assassination squad thought to be operating inside Pakistan.

Asmatullah is known to be a rival of a Khan Said, a senior Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leader who is also known as Sajna Mehsud. Sajna was rumored to have been appointed emir in early November 2013 after Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group's former emir, was killed by the US in a drone strike last fall. But one day later, Asmatullah, who led the group's shura, or executive council, was officially named interim emir. Several days later, Mullah Fazlullah was selected by the shura and appointed by Asmatullah to lead the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID, also may have been gunning for Asmatullah. He is known to have captured and executed Pakistani troops in the past. And while last week's execution of 23 Frontier Corps has been claimed by Omar Khalid al Khurasani and has not been linked to Asmatullah, the Pakistani military and ISID have been launching punitive raids against the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan's forces in North Waziristan, Khyber, and Hangu.

Asmatullah may also have been in the crosshairs of what is believed to be an assassination team that is thought to be operating in Pakistan and directed by US intelligence. Nasiruddin Haqqani, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, was assassinated under similar circumstances in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad in November 2013. Nasiruddin's assassins have yet to be named. The same network is said to be helping the US target jihadists in drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Asmatullah was a dangerous Taliban leader

Before joining the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Asmatullah was a member of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, an al Qaeda-linked group that operates in Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Harakat-ul-Mujahideen's emir is closely tied to al Qaeda and its leader operates openly in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Asmatullah had served as a senior commander in the tribal areas for nearly a decade. He is among the 20 most-wanted Taliban commanders operating in South Waziristan, Tank, and Dera Ismail Khan. In 2009, the Pakistani government placed a $120,000 bounty on his head.

Before being appointed to the shura, Asmatullah was the military commander in the towns of Jandola and Tank in the district of Tank and reported directly to Hakeemullah. In late 2009, many Taliban commanders fled the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan to avoid the Pakistani Army offensive that was launched in October of that year. Seeking to escape the military dragnet, the Taliban commanders fled to North Waziristan, Arakzai, Kurram, Khyber, and to areas in South Waziristan that are under the control of the Mullah Nazir Group.

In 2009, Asmatullah and some of his fighters relocated to the southern port city of Karachi, where he continued attacks. On Dec. 30, 2009, Asmatullah claimed that one of his fighters carried out the Dec. 28 suicide attack against a Shia religious procession in Karachi that killed 43 people and wounded more than 100.

By 2011, Asmatullah was back in the tribal areas conducting military operations. In December 2011, his forces overran a Frontier Corps fort in the settled district of Tank. Fifteen Frontier Corps troops were captured and one was killed during the raid.

After the assault on the Frontier Corps outpost in Tank, Asmatullah claimed credit for the attack and said it was carried out to avenge the death of Taj Gul Mehsud, who was killed along with 12 other fighters in a US airstrike on Oct. 26, 2011. Taj Gul Mehsud was a senior deputy to Hakeemullah.

Asmatullah has also waged jihad against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan. In 2006, he openly recruited fighters to battle in Afghanistan and called for the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in Pakistan.

"We are leaving for Afghanistan tomorrow, those who want to participate in Jihad can join us," Asmatullah told a group of Pakistanis in the town of Jandola in the district of Tank.



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READER COMMENTS: "Senior Taliban commander gunned down in North Waziristan"

Posted by KaneKaizer at February 24, 2014 9:39 AM ET:

Americans, NATO, Afghans, Pakistanis, rival Taliban factions, criminals, it doesn't really matter to me who's killing Taliban as long as they keep doing it. Always puts a smile on my face.

I do very much like the idea of a special assassination team operating inside Afghanistan. No annoying "national sovereignty" protests and possibly even a new opportunity to take out Big Z and the one-eyed Mullah if we can't use drones.

Posted by jayc at February 24, 2014 10:18 AM ET:

"...may have also been in the crosshairs...
assassination team that is thought to be operating in Pakistan and directed by US intelligence..."

When Mehsud and Haqqani were eliminated, I commented on one of Bill's articles that that was a double hit orchestrated by the CIA. Was just too cleanly done. Mehsud bought it at his compound and Haqqani was ambushed by two professional hitmen in a market. Now Bhittani and his inner circle were attacked in a definite kill zone. No muss, no fuss. All of these hits were clearly a professional job by someone who wanted them dead.

Posted by Chris at February 24, 2014 10:26 AM ET:

Interesting, internal strife, Pakistan military ? or Navy Seals ? who pulled the trigger ? hope we see more ops like this

Posted by EDDIED. at February 24, 2014 12:06 PM ET:

WTG!! Remove them all.

Posted by Jeff Edelman at February 24, 2014 6:04 PM ET:

My uninformed guess is the ISID have long known the whereabouts and movements of the top taliban/al qaeda and associated groups' guys in Pakistan. Maybe it was the beheading of the 23 soldiers but, something has changed and it has decided to go after them. Could be the CIA but, I'm not inclined to think so.

Posted by JT at February 25, 2014 1:33 AM ET:

According to a Dawn.com article on recent (Feb 25) airstrikes in N/S Waziristan, the public thinks a military offensive might actually be coming. Here is a quote from the article:

"North Waziristan residents have been trickling out of the troubled region in recent days anticipating a full-scale military offensive, leaving their homes and villages behind and settling in more peaceful areas such as Bannu, Kohat and Peshawar."

Posted by kimball at February 25, 2014 5:51 AM ET:


Could be an Afghan Sp F. hit team actually.

Posted by 5150 at March 1, 2014 7:13 PM ET:

These small arms hits seem to be much more effective than unmanned vehicle strikes. Not only does the application of firearm violence confuse the enemy (who doesn't own a Kalashnikov over there?), but also removes collateral damage and the possibility of civil reprisals/anti-Coalition sentiments from the equation.

Posted by JT at March 4, 2014 12:15 AM ET:

5150 -

Regardless of the method used, mistakes can be made. A mix of methods using the standard concept of diversification is virtually always optimal.

In other words, I agree with the use of small arms where it is effective. However, it is not hugely less prone to hitting wrong or extra targets than are aerial strikes using tech aids.