Taliban groups in South Waziristan opposed to Baitullah Mehsud have reorganized and appointed a new leader after the assassination of their previous leader.
Three minor Taliban commanders based in South Waziristan and active in the adjoining districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan have banded together and reformed the Abdullah Mehsud Group, Geo News reported.
Haji Turkistan Bhittani, Haji Tehsil Khan Wazir, and Ikhlas Khan Mehsud recently joined forces and appointed Ikhlas as the leader of the Abdullah Mehsud Group. The Taliban commanders have recently established offices in the eastern areas of South Waziristan that border Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.
Ikhlas, who is also known as Waziristan Baba, vowed to continue the fight against Baitullah’s followers in South Waziristan. “Those who are playing gory games with our brothers and sisters, are not people’s well-wishers,” he said, referring to Baitullah and his Taliban movement.
The Abdullah Mehsud group was previously led by Zainuddin Mehsud, the chief rival to Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah. On June 23, Zainuddin was assassinated by his bodyguard, just weeks after he had made public appearances denouncing Baitullah and calling him the enemy of Islam.
Zainuddin and Baitullah’s forces had clashed over the past year, and Zainuddin took credit for murdering more than 30 of Baitullah’s followers in Tank earlier this year.
After Zainuddin’s death, his brother Misabhuddin was appointed as the new leader of the Abdullah Mehsud group. Misabhuddin took command after the humiliating funeral of Zianuddin, which took place in Dera Ismail Khan in secrecy and was guarded by the Pakistani military.
The Pakistanis promoted Zainuddin and his ally Bhittani as a “pro-government” alternative to Baitullah. Zainuddin and Bhittani publicly vowed to continue sending their forces into Afghanistan, yet they continued to be backed by the Pakistani government.
The appointment of Ikhlas as the new leader of the Abdullah Mehsud group indicates that Misabhuddin has been cast aside. Misabhuddin had promised to avenge his brother, but he has not been heard from since the funeral. Bhittani’s followers were unceremoniously ejected from his offices in Tank by the government.
Both Zainuddin and Bhittani claimed they had more than 3,000 Taliban fighters under their command and were attempting to recruit more in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, two districts that border South Waziristan. But a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Zainuddin was inflating his influence and capabilities.
Abdullah Mehsud, the founder of the group, had been a senior Taliban leader in South Waziristan before he was killed during a shootout with Pakistani security forces in Zhob in Baluchistan province. Zainuddin and his followers subsequently accused Baitullah of providing information to the Pakistani military that led to Abdullah’s death.
Abdullah had also been a detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Abdullah and his followers sent Taliban forces into Afghanistan to battle Coalition forces.
Pakistan continues air campaign in South Waziristan
The maneuvering behind the leadership of the Abdullah Mehsud group takes place as the Pakistani military continues its air campaign in South Waziristan. A strike today against Baitullah’s forces killed six of his followers, according to reports. The US has also weighed in against Baitullah; eight of the last 10 Predator strikes took place in Baitullah’s tribal areas.
The Pakistani military identified Baitullah as the prime target of its operation in South Waziristan, but has refused to fight against other Taliban commanders such as Mullah Nazir and North Waziristan warlords Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Nazir and Bahadar have dumped peace agreements with the military and ambushed military convoys and attacked bases, but the government insists the agreements are still in place.
The military has refused to enter South Waziristan in force and instead signaled it intends to conduct a punitive operation by cutting off the region and pounding Baitullah’s camps with air and artillery strikes [see LWJ report, South Waziristan offensive ‘punitive,’ not counterinsurgency].
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