Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, before the Pakistani Army launched the South Waziristan offensive.
The early morning airstrike today that struck a Taliban training camp in North Waziristan targeted the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistani officials claimed Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed but the Taliban commander’s spokesman denied the reports.
The airstrike was carried out by US attack aircraft in the Pasalkot region in North Waziristan, a region that borders South Waziristan. Two missiles are said to have leveled a compound that served as a madrassa, or religious school. Ten Taliban fighters were reported killed in the attack, according to early reports. Hakeemullah was one of three senior Taliban leaders present during the attack, according to a Pakistani intelligence official.
“It is immaterial to say how many have been killed in the attack,” the Pakistani official said, according to Dawn, noting that Hakeemullah was indeed the target of the US attack. “The important thing for us is whether Hakeemullah is amongst those killed. He has probably been killed.”
The Taliban denied that Hakeemullah had been killed but did confirm he was in the region.
“We were in Shaktoi but not at the compound which has been struck,” Azam Tariq, Hakeemullah’s spokesman, said. The town of Shaktoi is near Ramzak in North Waziristan.
Some intelligence officials and several militants said that Hakeemullah was not killed in the attack.
Hakeemullah was last seen on a videotape with the Jordanian al Qaeda operative who killed seven CIA officials, including the station chief, and a Jordanian intelligence officer, in a suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province. The outpost was used to gather intelligence for strikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the tape, the Jordanian claimed he carried out the suicide attack to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan who was killed in a US strike in August 2009.
The Pakistani government has insisted several times in the past that Hakeemullah was killed during a clash with South Waziristan Taliban leader Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The government claimed the two killed each other during an argument over who would replace Baitullah, while the Taliban denied the clash ever took place. Both leaders later appeared together in several tapes, but the government insisted that a body double was standing in for Hakeemullah.
In the past, the Pakistani government has had an abysmal track record in reporting al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed. But most recently, the Pakistani government was correct when it claimed Baitullah was killed last August. The Taliban had denied the claims but later relented when they announced Hakeemullah as their new leader.
Hakeemullah is considered an able and dangerous leader. He has orchestrated the Taliban suicide campaign in Pakistan and the tactical retreat from the military’s operation in South Waziristan. He has vowed to continue attacks until the military withdraws from the northwest.
It is unclear who would replace Hakeemullah if he was killed in the strike. Waliur Rehman was the other front-runner, but he has been ejected from his stronghold in South Waziristan.
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