Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, in 2008.
The Guardian interviewed a senior ISI official who claimed that Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, is alive. From The Guardian:
The Taliban leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, survived an American drone strike in January and is alive and well, a senior official with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency told the Guardian today.
Mehsud was reported to have died in a CIA drone strike in South Waziristan in January but, although Pakistan’s interior minister claimed he had been killed, the death was never confirmed by either US or Pakistani intelligence.
Today the senior intelligence official said he had seen video footage of the missile attack on Mehsud but other intelligence had since confirmed the insurgent leader survived. He declined to elaborate further.
“He is alive,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He had some wounds but he is basically OK.”
Longtime readers of The Long War Journal know that we’ve been cautious about declaring Hakeemullah dead. Our sources, which have been very accurate on the subject of dead al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the past, have been skeptical of the reports. Pakistani officials hurt their case when they declared that he died on three different dates, and in three different circumstances.
And the Pakistanis have a terrible track record when declaring senior terror leaders dead. The list at the last link is woefully out of date, but updating it would only reinforce the assertion that Pakistani officials have an awful accuracy rate in reporting on the deaths of top terror leaders. Other than Baitullah Mehsud and a handful of other local, second-tier Pakistani Taliban leaders in Swat, the record has been dismal at best. One Swati Taliban leader supposedly killed in a shootout later died from cancer.
A number of Taliban leaders, and even an ex-ISI officer and sympathizer, have all denied that Hakeemullah is dead. Qari Hussain Mehsud, who was reported killed along with Hakeemullah, also denied that his boss had been killed. Even Hakeemullah’s supposed successor, Mullah Jamal, said that Hakeemullah is alive. Jamal also denied that he himself commanded the Pakistani Taliban.
Hakeemullah’s silence since his denial in late February of the initial report of his death is out of character for him. He is known to be a ham for the cameras. But according to multiple accounts, he has been advised to maintain silence lest his communications allow US and Pakistani intelligence to track back to his location. His spokesman, Azam Tariq, said he was alive but would no longer release tapes. In fact, a top Taliban/al Qaeda military commander named Qari Zia Rahman, said that he himself, like Hakeemullah, had been advised to remain silent after the Pakistanis reported him dead; Rahman broke his silence months later, citing a need to let his fighters know he was alive.
As noted several times, we won’t be certain if Hakeemullah is dead or alive until either his body is shown or the Taliban release a propaganda tape confirming his death. Many have quickly jumped to the conclusion that he is dead, without solid evidence to back it up.
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