Taliban commander Hakeemullah Mehsud at a press conference in Peshawar in 2008.
Reuters is reporting that the news leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan may be dead. According to unnamed US intelligence officials, Hakeemullah Mehsud may have been killed during a clash with a rival Taliban group several weeks ago. From Reuters:
“We’re pretty clear that we think he’s dead,” a U.S. defence official said of Hakimullah.
A counterterrorism official said: “While there’s no final confirmation of his death, it’s a distinct possibility.”
The officials, who spoke about the intelligence on condition of anonymity, said Hakimullah was believed to have been shot weeks ago during a clash with a rival group in South Waziristan.
U.S. intelligence agencies are still reviewing information to make a final call on his death.
Below are a few points that should be considered during the early stages while attempting to determine the veracity of the Reuters report:
• There have been no reports of Hakeemullah’s death from Taliban or tribal sources in the tribal areas. The rumors often precede the more official reports from intelligence officials.
• There have been no reports of Taliban meetings to choose Hakeemullah’s successor, as there were after Baitullah was killed. The closest thing was a report in Dawn of a meeting held in Mir Ali, but the Taliban commanders reportedly discussed avenging Baitullah’s death with a suicide campaign.
• There have been no reports from Pakistan on Taliban infighting over the past several weeks. In fact, the last reports of infighting took place between Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters and the Abdullah Mehsud Group, the discredited Taliban group that sided with the government. This fighting took place during August. Turkistan Bhittani, a leader in the group, was responsible for floating rumors of Taliban infighting after Baitullah was killed in an airstrike.
• Hakeemullah was reported dead by Pakistani and US intel officials in the beginning of August after the so-called battle at the shura, where Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud supposedly shot it out and killed each other fighting over Baitullah’s leadership of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. No such shootout took place, and both Taliban leaders eventually took two of the top commands in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (the rumor was floated by Turkistan Bhittani). Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman even granted joint interviews to the press afterward.
• Hakeemullah’s brother, Kameemullah, was confirmed to have been killed this week. Kameemullah was killed while participating in the Taliban assault on a Frontier Corps base in Ramzak in North Waziristan.
• Hakeemullah Mehsud was last heard from on Sept. 16, while Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior deputy, has been very vocal since.
It is certainly possible that Hakeemullah was killed in a succession battle; the Taliban covered up Baitullah’s death for some time until they had chosen a new successor (my sources believe Baitullah didn’t die during the US Predator strike on Aug. 5; they believe he died of wounds suffered in the attack sometime afterward). Right now the reports are inconclusive.
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