The fog of the Predator war: Baitullah is alive, say Pakistani Taliban

Baitullah-Mehsud.jpg

Images of Baitullah Mehsud were released after his alleged death. AFP photo.

Two senior Taliban commanders, the group’s spokesman, a senior aide, and an Islamist politician are all claiming that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud survived last week’s Predator strike in South Waziristan.

Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud, two powerful military commanders and a front-runners to replace Baitullah, and Maulvi Omar, the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said that Baitullah is alive and would speak in the next several days. Qari Hidayatullah, a close aide to Baitullah, said the Taliban shura, or executive leadership council, will provide proof that Baitullah is alive.

Hakeemullah, who commands Taliban forces in Arakzai, Kurram, Khyber, and in some regions in Peshawar, called reports of Baitullah’s death “ridiculous” and said that the US and Pakistan sought to divide the Taliban.

“The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies,” Hakeemullah told BBC.

“We know what our enemies want to achieve – it’s the joint policy of the ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency] and FBI – they want our chief to come out in the open so they can achieve their target.”

Hakeemullah refused to answer questions as to why he did not immediately deny reports of Baitullah’s death, and said the Taliban leader decided to emulate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by remaining silent.

Qari Hussain, a senior commander in South Waziristan who is known for training child suicide bombers, said he met with Baitullah today and would punish the Pakistani government for claiming Baitullah was killed.

“The reports about his death are false,” Hussain told the Associated Press. “I will take revenge against the Pakistan government for celebrating the false news of Baitullah Mehsud’s death.”

Maulvi Omar, the chief spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said Baitullah is “sound and fit,” and accompanying his fighters. Baitullah would speak to the media shortly to confirm he was alive, Omar said, but he would not be pushed into the open.

Qari Hidayatullah told Pajhwok Afghan News that Baitullah is alive and that evidence would soon be presented to prove it.

“He is very much alive and fit,” Hidayatullah said. “Our shura has decided to provide the media a video of Baitullah Mehsud in two or three days as evidence of his being alive.”

Maulana Merajuddin, a former member of the national assembly for the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil political party, told the Pakistani press that Baitullah was alive and safe. He also denied reports that the Taliban shura was meeting to appoint a successor.

Bill Roggio discusses the fog of the Predator war with Military.com’s Christian Lowe. Recorded Aug. 7, 2009.

First reports of Baitullah’s death and the fog of the Predator war

Baitullah was reported to have been visiting his second wife at a compound run by his father-in-law, Ikramuddin Mehsud, when the US targeted him for death. On Aug. 5, unmanned US strike aircraft, probably the Predators or the more sophisticated Reapers, fired four missiles at the compound. Baitullah, his wife, his brother, and seven bodyguards are thought to have been killed in the strike.

First reports from Pakistan indicated that Baitullah survived the attack. But the Taliban established a wide cordon around the attack site and cut off communications, raising the prospects that a high value target had been killed.

Reports began to filter in from Pakistan that Baitullah had indeed been killed in the strike. Kafayatullah Mehsud, one of Baitullah’s deputies, said that Baitullah had been killed.

“I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan,” Kafayatullah told the Associated Press late on Aug. 6. Other Mehsud tribal members and Pakistani intelligence officials also reported that Baitullah had been killed.

Communications intercepts picked up by US intelligence also seemed to indicate Baitullah had been killed. Baitullah was also said to have been buried in his family’s ancestral burial grounds. Reports from Pakistan said the Taliban shura was meeting to select a new leader.

Faqir Mohammed, one of the senior most commanders in the Pakistani Taliban, said Baitullah had been killed. Faqir, who operates from the Bajaur tribal agency, well north of South Waziristan, later said he could neither confirm or deny Baitullah’s death.

Pakistani government officials have been adamant that Baitullah was killed. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government was nearly certain Baitullah had been killed and that intelligence was seeking 100 percent confirmation. Foreign Minister Mahmood Shar Qureshi was insistent, saying Baitullah was certainly killed.

But US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal on Aug. 6 would not confirm Baitullah’s death, but instead said they were investigating the reports. The officials said there were indications that Baitullah may have survived or possibly was lightly wounded in the attack. The officials still have not confirmed that Baitullah was killed.

Baitullah.jpg

Baitullah Mehsud from a Taliban video. Click image to view the slideshow of the Taliban leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Taliban still have not issued an official statement to confirm or deny Baitullah’s death. In the past, the Taliban and al Qaeda have released martyrdom statements upon the death of their senior leaders.

In the past, reports of the deaths of senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan have been highly unreliable, particularly when they have originated from Pakistani government and intelligence officials. Previously, al Qaeda leaders Ayman al Zawahiri, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, Abu Obaidullah Al Masri, Adam Gadahn, Ibn Amin, and Rashid Rauf have all been reported killed in various strikes, but these men later resurfaced. Similarly, Sa’ad bin Laden was recently reported killed, but he is now thought to be alive. And Abu Khabab al Masri was reported dead several times before he actually was killed in a July 2008 strike.

Pakistani Taliban leaders Mullah Nazir, Mullah Fazlullah, Faqir Mohammed, Omar Khalid, Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Qari Hussain, as well as Baitullah, have in the past all been reported killed, only to resurface later.

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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7 Comments

  • Cordell says:

    The rumors keep flying. Here’s an even stranger twist to this story:
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The Pakistani government has received reports that shooting broke out between two rivals for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, and one of them may have been killed, the interior minister said Saturday.
    Pakistani news channels were carrying unconfirmed reports that Hakimullah Mehsud, one of the movement’s most powerful commanders, had been killed at a shura, or council meeting, held to decide who would succeed slain leader Baitullah Mehsud.
    “The infighting was between Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters. “We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming.”
    A Taliban official in South Waziristan, where the meeting took place, told Reuters the government had fabricated reports of fighting between the different factions.
    Noor Said, who had been a deputy spokesman under Baitullah, said: “There was no fighting in the shura. Both Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah are safe and sound.”
    The complete story is at:
    //news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090808/wl_nm/us_pakistan_mehsud_3
    This latest rumor at least supports the contention that Baitullah has indeed passed on to the netherworld.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Given the amount of conflicting reports that are flying around, I’m going to wait that rumor out.
    IF Baitullah is alive, it is clear the Pakistani government planted the gunfight-at-the-Taliban-shura story (on state-run TV no less), because there won’t have been a reason for Hakeemullah and Waliur to fight over Baitullah’s throne.
    I’m highly skeptical of the gunfight-at-the-Taliban-shura story. This isn’t they way they conduct business. If the shura even happened, there would have been some very senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders present. There would be hell to pay for opening fire at the shura meeting.

  • G-Shock says:

    Well seems like he might have to wait a lil longer for 72’s.
    By the way is that Baitullah on the top right corner? He has gained some weight since his last pic, assuming under pressure and on the run, Is he dinning on goats in the mountains.

  • joe says:

    Agreed, the gunfight at the shura sounds like a very poor attempt to cause infighting among successors of Baitullah by the government.
    Also the people closest to Baitullah like hakemullah and quri hussain are claiming hes alive and is going to talk to the media soon. Id wager that its still 50 50 whether baitullah is even dead at this point.

  • Cordell says:

    G-Shock:
    Baitullah was reportedly diabetic and seeking treatment for kidney disease at the time of the attack, which jibes with the much fuller face in the recently released photo. Let’s hope a high-carb diet and a lack of exercise finish him off soon if he’s still alive.

  • Flighterdoc says:

    Well, he needs to show himself – I suggest sending a message to the US Government saying he’ll be outside and visible to a Predator for a quick picture, so we can tell the world he’s still in charge.

  • Rhyno327 says:

    I listened to Bill’s interview for 20 min., trying to decide whether this guy is gone or not. As Bill said, you cannot trust the PAK gov., and they are very good at misdirection. Firefight at Shura? Not likely. How important was Mehsud? Sounds like he was similar to a Corps commander, though I don’t know how their forces are structured.

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