Baitullah Mehsud, the feared leader of the Pakistan Taliban, is believed to have been killed during the Aug. 5 airstrike in South Waziristan.
Faqir Mohammed, the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the commander of the Bajaur Taliban, told Sky News that Baitullah was killed in a strike that also killed Baitullah’s second wife.
An aide to Baitullah identified as Kafayatullah, as well as another unidentified Taliban leader in South Waziristan, also said that Baitullah had been killed in the attack.
“I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan,” Kafayatullah told the Associated Press late last night.
Baitullah was said to have been buried near the village of Nardusai. “Some who had reportedly seen his body said that it had been half-destroyed by the blast,” the BBC stated.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, said intelligence believes that Baitullah was killed in Wednesday’s strike but the government wants to confirm the reports. US intelligence officials also believe that Baitullah was killed.
Reports indicate Baitullah was visiting a compound owned by Ikramuddin Mehsud, Baitullah’s father-in-law, in the village of Zanghra in the mountains near Baitullah’s home town of Makeen. The airstrike also reportedly killed one Baitullah’s two brothers and seven of Baitullah’s bodyguards.
US intelligence sources contacted by The Long War Journal last evening had initially believed Baitullah survived the attack.
A search for Baitullah’s successor
The Pakistani Taliban is reported to be meeting to appoint Baitullah’s successor.
Possible successors to Baitullah include his cousins Hakeemullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain Mehsud, and Waliur Rahman, military commander Azmatullah Mehsud, and North Waziristan leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar.
Hakeemullah directs Taliban operations in Arakzai, Kurram, and Khyber. He has been behind the attacks against NATO convoys moving through Peshawar. More than 700 NATO vehicles and containers have been destroyed in these attacks over the past eight months.
Qari Hussain is a feared military commander in South Waziristan. He is notorious for training children to become suicide bombers.
Hafiz Gul Bahadar is also a candidate to take over the Pakistani Taliban in the event of Baitullah’s death. Bahadar is widely respected in Taliban circles and has close links to the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as to al Qaeda.
Waliur Rahman is a cousin of Baitullah and serves as a deputy military commander in South Waziristan. Azmatullah Mehsud is also a military leader in South Waziristan.
Background on Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s most powerful Taliban commander
Baitullah is the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the unified command of scores of local Taliban fighters throughout the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan. He has also allied with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and South Waziristan leader Mullah Nazir to form the Council of United Mujahideen. The group has pledged its support to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and overall Taliban commander Mullah Omar, and has vowed to battle the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.
Based out of South Waziristan, Baitullah has become the most prominent Taliban leader in Pakistan. He commands tens of thousands of well-trained fighters, who conduct suicide and conventional attacks against Pakistani, Coalition, and Afghan forces. Since 2004, Baitullah’s fighters have defeated the Pakistani Army in several engagements. In January 2008, the Pakistani Army agreed to a cease fire after abruptly ending an operation 10 days into a battle with Baitullah. He has been implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto shortly after her return from exile in late 2007.
Baitullah is closely allied with bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Al Qaeda shelters in Baitullah’s tribal areas and maintains scores of training camps and safe houses in the region.
Baitullah has openly stated his intentions to conduct attacks against the United States and the West. He “poses a clear threat to American persons and interests in the region,” the State Department said earlier this year, when it offered up to $5 million dollars for information leading to his location or capture.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.