Taliban commanders survive US airstrike at funeral

The US came close to killing Baitullah Mehsud, one of his senior deputies, and an Afghan Taliban commander during Tuesday’s airstrike that targeted the leaders as they gathered for the funeral of an aide killed in a separate Predator strike earlier that day.

Baitullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban movement, narrowly escaped the attack, as he left the funeral just minutes before the airstrike, US intelligence officials involved in the hunt in Pakistan’s tribal areas told The Long War Journal.

“We think we almost had him,” one official said, referring to Baitullah. “It was close.”

Qari Hussain Mehsud and Mullah Sangeen Zadran also dodged the US air blitz, according to US intelligence officials and reports in the Pakistani press.

Qari Hussain is a senior Taliban commander and possible successor to Baitullah. He runs suicide training camps in South Waziristan and recruits young boys to serve as suicide bombers.

Sangeen is senior deputy to Siraj Haqqani and a field commander for the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan. Sangeen has led pitched battles against US and Afghan forces in Paktika province in Afghanistan.

Baitullah, Qari Hussain, and Sangeen were in the town of Makeen to attend the funeral of Khwaz Ali Mehsud, a mid-level commander of the Taliban in South Waziristan. Khwaz Ali, who was close to Baitullah, had been killed in a Predator strike earlier that morning.

Close aides to Qari Hussain said reports that their commander had been killed were false and he was not present at the funeral. Dawn claimed Qari Hussain was killed in the strike, but did not say if the report came from the Taliban or Pakistani intelligence officials.

Sangeen confirmed he survived the attack. In a phone call to The News, Sangeen denied being in South Waziristan.

“We have nothing to do with internal fighting in Pakistan,” Sangeen said. “Our job is to fight Jihad against the occupation forces in Afghanistan.”

A spokesman for Sangeen said his commander would release a videotape to prove he survived the attack. “Reports about Sangeen Zadran’s death are baseless and his video statement will be released within two days,” a Taliban leader named Noorullah who is based in Miramshah in North Waziristan told Dawn.

Three low-level Taliban leaders were reported killed in the strike. The commanders were identified as Maulvi Bilal, Khushdel, and Shabir Khan. Taliban sources claim that 30 Taliban fighters and 45 civilians were killed in the attack on the funeral.

South Waziristan is a major focus of the US air campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The US has been targeting al Qaeda’s external network, which is tasked with hitting against targets in the West.

Of the 24 US strikes carried out in Pakistan this year, 16 of them took place in South Waziristan. Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Nazir’s areas have been hit eight times each this year. Both Nazir and Baitullah host al Qaeda training camps and shelter senior leaders of the terror group.

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

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  • Lorenz Gude says:

    I am beginning to appreciate just hard hard it must be to kill selected leaders using drones. I’m pretty sure the targets would be thinking hard abut how to avoid being conspicuous.

  • Midnight says:

    Can we say that you’ve cleaned it up yet or is this a Condi “kill them all,” thing that you’ve got going on there.
    I believe the Generals on the ground will agree when I say thank you for investing in Al Qai’da’s war.

  • tyrone says:

    Too bad we missed the leadership. Agree that this is one more indication of just how hard it is to target individuals. But it must make them uncomfortable to realized how close they came to getting taken out, and close often means we will get them soon. It also may cause changes in behavior that will make it easier to stay on them or perhaps, at least, harder for them to be effective. The FUD factor should be on the upper notch right now. I think if we can take out most of the militant leadership amongst the (bad?) Taliban and Al Qaeda – the battlefield will look a lot different (and the threat of plots hatched against the rest of the world will be greatly reduced). The 9/11 attacks are reaping a slow motion whirlwind, but a deadly one nonetheless. Wishing a heartfelt thanks and Godspeed to the coalition troops and spooks.

  • plainslow says:

    These guys have an uncanny ability to get out just before the attack. Either someone is telling them (and they are not relaying it to thier fighters) or its them setting those same fighters up.

  • Reaper 142 says:

    Enjoy it while you can. I’m still out here you know.

  • tbrucia says:

    There seems to be a fundamental difference of opinion as to whether ‘decapitating’ (1) temporarily degrades the enemy’s effectiveness; (2) permanently degrades its effectiveness; or (3) makes the movement evolve into more effective forms…. This isn’t the forum to argue this, but I would suggest we not simply ‘assume’ 1, 2, or 3…. History obviously has some lessons, but we may simply have to revisit our predictions in a year or two and see ‘how it all came out’….. I hope I’m overestimating the ability of the enemy to regenerate and innovate, and I hope those who think decapitation will eventually win ‘victory’ are right…. We shall see…..

  • Cordell says:

    Apparently, the Taliban and AQ leaders know when to duck. Reports from the scene, together with the ~70 killed, suggest that three drones equipped with heavy ordinance were involved in this strike, as reported by Wired magazine:
    Most likely, the leadership knows not to stand near any large crowds that might prove to be an attractive target and aiming point.

  • tbrucia says:

    An interesting (and depressing) story by By Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/world/asia/28swat.htm . I keep coming back to David Kilcullen, Petraeus, and then comparing their methods with those employed in Pakistan…. they don’t match.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Can anyone decipher what “Midnight” is ever talking about on this blog?

  • KnightHawk says:

    “Can anyone decipher what “Midnight” is ever talking about on this blog?”

    If you figure it out let me know cause I didn’t ‘get’ it either.

  • Neo says:

    tbrucia “An interesting (and depressing) story by By Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah:”

  • Brent Patton says:

    Either someone is telling them or its them setting those same fighters up.

  • AntonyWCSS says:

    Although this news is a little bit old, there’s a similarity with the current situation, as US forces claimed to have killed Osama Bin Laden. I just hope these fighting stops, so innocent people/civilian will not get hurt/killed.


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