Pakistan has poor track record reporting deaths of senior terrorist leaders


Mustafa Abu Yazid from an al Qaeda tape released on Oct. 4. Pakistan claimed Yazid was killed in a battle in Bajaur last summer.

A senior Taliban or al Qaeda leader may have been killed in the Oct. 2 airstrike in North Waziristan, according to unconfirmed reports from Pakistan. But without confirmation from either the Taliban or the US, reports from Pakistani officials should be viewed as suspect.

The US carried out two separate strikes in North Waziristan on Oct. 2. Both strikes hit tribal areas in North Waziristan run by the Haqqani family. The strike in Mohammed Khel is reported to have killed 23, including 16 or more “Arab” al Qaeda members.

“The Taliban appeared extra-perturbed over the latest strike,” the The Associated Press reported, based on anonymous Pakistani intelligence sources. “The anger was a signal that a senior militant may have been killed, but that has yet to be confirmed, the officials said.”

Taliban fighters are “moving aggressively in the area while using harsh language against locals, including calling them “saleable commodities” – a reference to people serving as government spies,” AP reported. The Taliban have surrounded the attack site and are keeping locals away.

The sources did not speculate as to who may have been killed. The US has been hunting Jalaluddin Haqqani, the legendary mujahideen fighter and leader of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, and Siraj, his son. The Haqqani family mosque was targeted in an airstrike on Sept. 9.

Both men have been behind major attacks in Afghanistan and lead the insurgency in Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces. The Haqqanis shelter al Qaeda leaders and fighters, and support training camps in their tribal areas in Pakistan.

Beware of Pakistani sourcing

The Pakistani government, the military, and intelligence services have been eager to show that senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders are being killed during Pakistani offensives in the tribal areas. The US has expressed concern over the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan, and has upped unilateral airstrikes inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas in an attempt to prevent attacks on US soil. Pakistani is under enormous pressure to show results in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda.

But this year’s reports of the death of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders from Pakistani sources have almost always been false.

Since January 2008, nine senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri and Baitullah Mehsud, have been reported to have been killed inside Pakistan. Of those reported killed, only three have been confirmed killed. All three al Qaeda leaders were killed in US cross-border strikes, not in Pakistani offensive operations. The other six leaders who were reported killed by Pakistani sources have appeared in the media or on al Qaeda propaganda tapes.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban typically release a martyrdom announcement when senior operational leaders are killed. The reasons are twofold, a senior intelligence official told The Long War Journal. First, the terror groups want to celebrate the death of their leaders to help with recruitment. Second, the announcement serves to dispel any rumors within the organization and allows the replacement leader to take command.

Without independent confirmation from US intelligence and al Qaeda or the Taliban, reports of the death of senior terrorist leaders from exclusively Pakistani sources should be viewed with skepticism.

False reports:

The following al Qaeda and Taliban leaders were reported kill by Pakistani intelligence sources. These leaders later appeared in the media or on propaganda tapes.

Ayman al Zawahiri: Several large news outlets reported that al Qaeda’s second in command was killed or seriously wounded in the May 14 airstrike in South Waziristan that killed al Qaeda WMD chief Abu Khabab al Masri. The Long War Journal was highly critical that Zawahiri was killed at the time. Zawahiri appeared on a videotape a week later urging Pakistanis to fight the government.

Baitullah Mehsud: On Sept. 30, several major news sources reported that Pakistani Taliban leader and South Waziristan warlord Baitullah Mehsud died of natural causes related to kidney problems. The Long War Journal was highly critical that Baitullah was dead, and intelligence sources said he was alive. On Oct. 1, the Taliban denied the report. Baitullah was seen visiting villages in South Waziristan to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr on Oct. 4.

Faqir Mohammed: The Pakistani military claimed Faqir Mohammed, the deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban and the group’s leader in the Bajaur tribal agency, was killed in a battle in Bajaur this summer. A Taliban spokesman immediately denied the report and Faqir appeared in front to the media a day later to dispute the claim of his death. The Pakistani military also claimed Faqir’s son, Abdullah Mohammed, was killed, although no proof of his death has been offered.

Mustafa Abu Yazid: The Pakistani military claimed Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s senior commander in Afghanistan, was killed in a battle in the Bajaur tribal agency this summer. The Long War Journal was highly critical of the reports of Yazid’s death. Al Qaeda never confirmed Yazid’s death, and the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies never presented evidence he was killed. Yazid has since appeared on multiple videotapes, including the Oct. 4 release that featured Adam Gadahn. The Pakistani military, who refer to Yazid as Abu Saeed al Masri, claimed Yazid was dead as recently as Sept. 26.

Adam Gadahn: Numerous Pakistani sources told multiple major news outlets that Gadahn was killed in the Jan. 28 airstrike in North Waziristan that killed senior al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al Libi. The Long War Journal was highly critical of the reports of Gadahn’s death. Speculation grew after Gadahn failed to appear on al Qaeda propaganda tapes, As Sahab stopped producing English translations for the tapes, and some problems were reported with the release of videos and audio. Gadahn later appeared on a tape on Oct. 4, along with Yazid. Gadahn is the American al Qaeda spokesman who is wanted by the US for treason.

Qari Hussain: The Pakistani military claimed Qari Hussain, a senior lieutenant to Baitullah Mehsud who ran a suicide bomber nursery in South Waziristan, was killed during operations in January. Hussain held a press conference in South Waziristan on May 23, and mocked the Pakistani military. “I am alive, don’t you see me?” Hussain said.

Confirmed kills:

Al Qaeda confirmed the death of all three leaders. The US killed the terrorist leaders in airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Abu Laith al Libi: Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Al Libi also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

Abu Sulayman Jazairi: On May 14, a US airstrike killed Abu Sulayman Jazairi along with 13 associates in an attack against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency. Jazairi was a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda’s central organization who directed the group’s external operations against the West. He is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.

Abu Khabab al Masri: The US military killed Abu Khabab al Masri during a targeted strike on an al Qaeda safe house in the village of Zeralita in the Azam Warsak region of South Waziristan on July 28. Khabab was al Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and headed its chemical and biological weapons programs.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Gringo says:

    Another example of Pakistani double-dealing:falsely report killing of bad guy to show that they are on our side.

  • TEM says:

    I hope the US commanders and politicians learned their lesson with John Walker Lindh, the American fighting for Al-Queda, possibly helped kill CIA agent,Mike Spann, during the prison riots, during the early days of the war in Afghanistan.
    Lindh was arrested, obtained some ACLU type lawyer and got away with killing at least 1 American with a short prison sentence.
    The same mistake can’t be repeated a second time, Adam Gadahn has to die and be a “martyr,for his twisted views formed by AQ.
    He has been charged with treason, rightly so,however, if he is arrested, the Marxist inspired Center for Constitiutional Rights or some other radical left wing, US hating law firm will fight tooth and nail to prevent Gadahn from getting the appropriate punishment, which should be a needle in the arm.
    Drop him on the battlefield and the US will not need to waste their time or money, giving the traitor a trial. Those left wing, anti-American law firms will want Gadahn treated no differently than a bank robery suspect, then put the USA military and government on trial, just to muddy the waters and confuse jurors.
    Then you have to worry about left wing radical judges, reducing whatever the jury reccomends.
    No sir. never again should the USA treat individuals like Gadahn like a common criminal.
    Solve the treason problem on the battlefield and then let him become a martyr.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Well, Pakistan hasn’t reported that any specific leader was killed, they’re just speculating on the possibility because apparently the Taliban are super furious about this strike and they even carried away two of the victims’ bodies. Perhaps they’ll make some kind of announcement about it in the coming days?

  • Kidartbai says:

    KaneKaizer, agreed, no one is reporting the death of any specific leader. I don’t know why anonymous local Pakistani sources quoted through wire services are taken as the official Pakistan government spokesman saying something? Happens all the time, and everyone falls over themselves to believe these anon sources, when there has been no official word.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    KaneKaizer, Kidartbai,
    In two specific cases – Mustafa Abu Yazid and Qari Hussain, the military claimed both men were killed, when they clearly are alive.
    But I do agree, much of this reporting of senior leaders killed based on anonymous officials is highly suspect. I will add that the local sources have proven pretty accurate on an event taking place (example: a US airstrike inside Pakistan).

  • Kidartbai says:

    It’s true the military has taken to AQ/Taliban disinformation too easily before to prove their successes, but I don’t think there is intended malice. And these local anon officials could be anyone from the assistant political agent, to a levies spokesman, to an FC intelligence official, to an IB officer, an MI officer, an ISI field agent, a political party member, a local Malik, a khasadar leader etc.
    Remember, Pakistan is a fairly decentralized country when it comes to what can be described as “government”. Part of the problem in fact. You’re putting a lot of emphasis on this and not much on the NATO/US failures west of the Durand line.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Let me clarify: Yazid and Hussain were claimed killed by a senior Frontier Corps General and the head of the ISPR respectively. These were not low-level, anonymous sources. Senior Pakistani commanders have blatantly distorted friendly and enemy casualties in the past as well. And let’s not even discuss the catch and release program that exists with senior Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadi leaders.
    We can argue intentions, but the end result is it serves to deceive Pakistan’s allies as to its efforts to fight. And again, I completely agree that part of Pakistan’s problem is that there really is no state but a grouping of powerful actors under the guise of a state.
    I don’t know how long you’ve been reading, but we have dealt with problems in Afghanistan. This doesn’t change the fact that Pakistan is coming apart.

  • Kidartbai says:

    And I don’t want to belabor the point too much, but the US has also played it’s part post 9/11 to lead to the current situation in both Pak and Afghan. The Tora Bora fiasco, the low level of troops for border control west of the Durand line, the drug trade, thinking air strikes are the answer to decades of conflict etc.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/06/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    I think Bill is on the mark with his comments. That’s why I call P-stan’s claim of “soveriegnty” a joke. They keep backpeddaling, and the T-ban/AQ continue thier de-stabilization ops inside A-stan. The next CINC will have to make a decision: Let the camps run with impunity, and A-stan unravels, or hit those camps with a massive air campaign, followed up with air-assaults to clean up the garbage. With the P-stani’s, believe none of wat you hear, and half of wat you see.


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