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Taliban: Baitullah Mehsud alive; US strike in North Waziristan

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.

The Taliban denied that its commander in Pakistan died of natural causes. Baituallah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and warlord in South Waziristan, was reported to have died yesterday of complications related to diabetes.

The Taliban “media felt annoyed by some media reports about death of Baitullah Mehsud,” Geo TV reported. Instead, the news agency said Baitullah “offered Eid prayers in some undisclosed area of Waziristan.”

Sources told The Long War Journal yesterday that the reports were false and designed to spread misinformation. The Taliban spokesman said the reports were false. “Some elements were spreading false news on instructions of agencies,” Geo TV paraphased the Taliban spokesman as saying, indicating that Pakistani intelligence was spreading misinformation.

Baitullah is reported to be ill, however. “He is a diabetic under treatment and he soon will be alright,” said Taliban commander Rahim Burki.

Taliban leaders are rumored to be vying to succeed Baitullah in case he does die. Qari Hussain, a senior lieutenant to Baitullah, is said to be lobbying for the position. Qari ran a suicide camp in Spinkai in South Waziristan, where children were trained to conduct attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani military destroyed the camp in an operation in January.

Latest US strike in North Waziristan

After a week-long lull, the US conducted another airstrike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The latest attack occurred near Mirali in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan. Between four to six Taliban and foreign fighters were reported killed and nine were wounded.

The attack occurred in the village of Khusali Toorikhel after several Taliban fighters fired at circling Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. “After the drones came under fire a missile hit a house in the village. We have four dead now and another nine people were injured,” Geo TV reported.

The village is “a known haunt of Taliban and al Qaeda militants,” the news agency stated.

Mirali is a known stronghold of al Qaeda leader Abu Kasha. He has close links to both al Qaeda and the Taliban, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal in January 2007.

Abu Kasha is an Iraqi and serves as the key link between al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis (main Shura or consultive body) and the Taliban. He has two local commanders, Imanullah and Haq Nawaz Dawar, who both administer local offices in Mirali. Kasha also has a working relationship and close communication with Uzbek terror groups in the region.

The US has stepped up attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas this year after the Taliban and al Qaeda consolidated control in the tribal regions and settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. There have been 10 recorded cross-border strikes since Aug. 31. There have been 20 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan in 2008, compared to 10 strikes during 2006 and 2007 combined. The last attack occurred on Sept. 17.

Three senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the attacks. The Haqqani Network, the powerful al Qaeda and Taliban-linked group run by Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, has been heavily targeted as well. These attacks are designed to interdict al Qaeda’s ability to conduct attacks against the West as well as degrade the Taliban’s support network being used against NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani military said it had direct orders to “open fire” on any US forces attempting to violate Pakistan’s borders. The military has fired on US helicopters along the border at least three times in September.

US attacks inside Pakistan and incidents along the border in 2008:

Taliban: Baitullah Mehsud alive; US strike in North Waziristan

Oct. 1, 2008

Pakistan military fires on ISAF forces

Sept. 25, 2008

Pakistani military fires on US helicopters at border

Sept. 22, 2008

US strikes Taliban camp in South Waziristan

Sept. 17, 2008

Report: US helicopters fired on while crossing Pakistani border

Sept. 15, 2008

US hits compound in North Waziristan,

Sept. 12, 2008

US targets Haqqani Network in North Waziristan,

Sept. 8, 2008

US airstrike killed five al Qaeda operatives in North Waziristan,

Sept. 5, 2008

Report: US airstrike kills four in North Waziristan,

Sept. 4, 2008

Pakistanis claim US helicopter-borne forces assaulted village in South Waziristan,

Sept. 3, 2008

US hits al Qaeda safe house in North Waziristan,

Aug. 31, 2008

Five killed in al Qaeda safe house strike in South Waziristan,

Aug. 31, 2008

Al Qaeda safe house targeted in South Waziristan strike,

Aug. 20, 2008

Cross-border strike targets one of the Taliban’s 157 training camps in Pakistan’s northwest,

Aug. 13, 2008

Six killed in strike in South Waziristan,

July 28, 2008

Report: Strike targets Baitullah Mehsud’s hideout in Pakistan,

June 14, 2008

Senior Algerian al Qaeda operative killed in May 14 strike inside Pakistan,

May 24, 2008

Missile strike kills 20 in South Waziristan,

March 16, 2008

Unprecedented Coalition strike nails the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan,

March 13, 2008

Missile strike on al Qaeda meeting in South Waziristan kills 13,

Feb. 28, 2008

Senior al Qaeda leader Abu Laith al Libi killed in North Waziristan,

Jan. 31, 2008

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