Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, in 2008.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan has released a videotape of its leader Hakeemullah Mehsud; the record does not confirm he is alive, however.
The 43-minute-long videotape, which was released to The Associated Press, showed Hakeemullah being questioned by a masked interviewer.
Hakeemullah, who has been reported to have been killed on three separate occasions after a US Predator strike on Jan. 14, did not provide a date or any other evidence to confirm the date the video was recorded.
Instead, Hakeemullah warned that the US would face defeat if its forces entered Pakistan’s tribal areas, and he said it was the duty of Muslims to wage jihad, or holy war, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If they make the mistake of entering the Pakistani tribal areas, they will open a new chapter of their destruction in history which may surpass their defeat in Vietnam,” Hakeemullah said.
The release of today’s tape provides little evidence to support the Taliban’s claim that he is alive. Immediately after the first report that Hakeemullah was killed during the Jan. 14 airstrike in North Waziristan, he released a tape providing a specific date.
“Today, on the 16th of January, I am saying it again — I am alive, I am OK, I am not injured… when the drone strike took place, I was not present in the area at that time,” Hakeemullah Mehsud said.
The initial rumors that Hakeemulah had been killed abated until a second report surfaced that claimed he died of wounds suffered in the Jan. 14 strike. Two unnamed tribal elders said they had attended Hakeemullah’s funeral in Arakzai. Five days later, a report maintained that Maulvi Noor Jamal, a Taliban commander in Arakzai, had replaced Hakeemullah.
Then, on Feb. 9, another report surfaced, this time claiming that Hakeemullah had died that day near Multan while being transferred to a hospital in Karachi.
The Taliban have repeatedly denied that Hakeemullah was killed, however, and their top spokesman said Hakeemullah was not required to provide evidence that is alive. The spokesman said that US and Pakistani intelligence sought to use the tapes to attempt to track down Hakeemullah’s location.
Maulvi Noor Jamal, meanwhile, granted an interview on Feb. 10 and denied that he was the new leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Jamal also stated that Hakeemullah was indeed alive.
Two days later, an unnamed Taliban leader claimed to have met Hakeemullah at a meeting of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s top shura, or leadership council. The leader said the shura advised Hakeemullah not to respond to every claim of his death but then decided that Hakeemullah should release a tape.
The Pakistani government and top US officials have claimed that Hakeemullah was killed. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, said he was 100 percent certain Hakeemullah was dead but he had no evidence to back it up. Twice in the past two years the Pakistani government has erroneously claimed that Hakeemullah was killed, however: once in 2008, and then again in 2009.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal have consistently expressed skepticism that Hakeemullah is dead, and said that confirmation can only come from the Taliban [see LWJ report, “New rumors of the death of Pakistani Taliban leader emerge“].
The US has been actively hunting Hakeemullah, intelligence officials told The Long War Journal in January. Efforts have increased after he appeared on a martyrdom video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian intelligence officer across the border in Khost province, Afghanistan.
Hakeemullah is considered one of the Taliban’s most able and dangerous commanders. He has orchestrated several major operations: the assaults on NATO’s supply lines in the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 that caused the closure of Khyber Pass six times, the most recent Taliban suicide campaign in Pakistan, and the tactical retreat from the military’s offensive in South Waziristan that began in October 2009. He has vowed to continue attacks until the military withdraws from the northwest.
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