Pakistani Taliban leader killed by US after 4-year hunt


Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, before the Pakistani Army launched the South Waziristan offensive.

A version of the article was originally published at The Daily Beast.

After years of effort, the US has finally succeeded in killing Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban Pakistan, in the latest drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. Hakeemullah, who was responsible for numerous attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, was killed just as the Pakistani government was formally opening negotiations with the terrorist group.

While the Taliban have not released an official martyrdom statement for Hakeemullah, an official spokesman known as Shahidullah Shahid told Pakistani reporters that the emir is indeed dead, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The Muhajideen Shura in North Waziristan also threatened to attack the Pakistani state and military to avenge his death.

Hakeemullah was killed today by the remotely piloted drones as he left a mosque in the town of Darpa Danday Khel, a hotbed of al Qaeda, Taliban, and Haqqani Network activity in the jihadist-controlled tribal agency. Hakeemullah was not the first jihadist killed in the village; on July 2, US drones killed an al Qaeda military trainer and a Haqqani Network leader there.

US drones are responsible for both the rise and the demise of the slain Pakistani emir. Hakeemullah was promoted to lead the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US airstrike in August 2009.

Before his promotion, Hakeemullah led the Taliban in the nearby tribal agency of Arakzai. He was made famous after he appeared in a video driving a US Humvee that had been hijacked from a shipment of military supplies destined for Afghanistan.

Two months after Hakeemullah rose to lead his Taliban faction, the Pakistani military launched a well-telegraphed offensive to eject Hakeemullah’s forces from the tribal agency of South Waziristan. The Pakistani military has touted the success of the operation, but four years later the tribal agency is still contested. Hakeemullah and other top leaders of the group fled South Waziristan and sheltered with nonaligned Taliban factions in North Waziristan; none of the group’s top leaders were killed or captured during the operation.

But the US has succeeded where the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment has failed. Top leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, as well as leaders and operatives from al Qaeda and other terror groups based in the area, have been killed in the US’ drone program. Earlier this year, the US killed Waliur Rehman, Hakeemullah’s deputy.

The death of Hakeemullah is certainly a victory for the US, but a tactical one at best. With the deaths of Hakeemullah and Waliur Rahman, the Pakistani Taliban are forced to scramble to replace their top two leaders. But the timing of the strike may cause a backlash from Pakistani officials, who have demanded that the US end the program. Just yesterday, the Pakistani government announced it formally opened negotiations with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The death of Hakeemullah is sure to sabotage the talks.

Moreover, the US drone program has failed to halt the spread of al Qaeda, despite having killed more than 95 top al Qaeda, Taliban, and allied jihadist leaders in Pakistan alone since the first strike was launched in 2004. Al Qaeda has established new affiliates in Syria, Somalia, West Africa, and the Egyptian Sinai over the past several years, while its affiliate in Iraq has regenerated after taking a beating during the US surge in 2007-2008.

Hakeemullah was involved in a string of attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as a failed attack in the heart of New York City. On May 1, 2010, Hakeemullah claimed credit for an attempted car bombing in Times Square; the bomb failed to detonate due to a problem with the triggering device. Had the bomb exploded, scores of New Yorkers likely would have been killed and even more wounded or maimed.


Image of Hakeemullah Mehsud (left) and Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi, the triple agent suicide bomber, (right) on a videotape released on the Internet.

The former Taliban emir’s other most spectacular attack outside Pakistan took place on Dec. 30, 2009 at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province in Afghanistan. Hakeemullah sent a Jordanian jihadist whom CIA officials believed would provide information on the location of then-deputy al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri. But the Taliban’s triple agent detonated a suicide vest after getting on base, killing seven CIA officials and security personnel, as well as a Jordanian intelligence officer. Hakeemullah later appeared in a video gloating with the bomber over the plot.

Hakeemullah had been reported killed in drone strikes on several occasions since 2009, and the Pakistani government even claimed he died in a fictitious battle with Waliur Rahman as they supposedly struggled for control of the Taliban after Baitullah’s death (the clash never happened). Most famously, he was reported dead in the beginning of 2010. Hakeemullah quashed that rumor, however, when his tape announcing the Times Square attack was released.

In September 2010, the US added Hakeemullah, his deputy, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to its lists of terrorists and terrorist entities. The US State Department’s designation statement described the Pakistani Taliban as an al Qaeda affiliate.

“TTP [ Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] and al Qaeda have a symbiotic relationship; TTP draws ideological guidance from al Qaeda, while al Qaeda relies on TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border,” State said.

Despite the death of Hakeemullah, the group is unlikely to sever its ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups anytime soon. Other senior leaders in the group, such as Omar Khalid al Khorasani, the emir of the Mohmand branch, have openly praised al Qaeda and vowed to continue the global jihad. In March 2012, Omar Khalid said the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan seeks to overthrow the Pakistani government, impose sharia, or Islamic law, seize the country’s nuclear weapons, and wage jihad until “the Caliphate is established across the world.”

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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  • bman says:


  • 5150 says:

    Outstanding news!
    But for Christ’s sake, can we please stop referring to human-piloted aircraft as “drones”? The proper vernacular is Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV). UAVs are incapable of flight or even expending ordnance without external operation.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    It’s incredible that America is able to kill wanted terrorists in Pakistan, which the useless Pakistani army would never be able to do in a million years. Pakistanis should ask their government and army, why they can’t stop terrorists taking over a quarter of their country and how it’s easy for the islamic terrorists to bomb army and ISI bases weekly around the country. Also the people of Pakistan should ask the government and army why they are spending money on islamic terrorists fighting against neighbouring countries, while there is huge poverty and inequality of wealth.

  • Wiser Now says:

    I’m no socio-economic maven, but someone tell me if I have this right:
    The Taliban and al Qaida are funded by oil-rich Muslim rulers, who hoard their country’s money and do nothing to develop jobs, leaving young Muslim men with families to support and no income, and too much time. Enter the Islamist extremist recruiters. This keeps everyone’s focus off the ruling dynasties, while they indulge every vice (not to mention enormous mansions with solid gold bathroom trim, any one of which could fund a hospital for a year), all the while promoting a hyper-religious focus on the sins of the West.
    Did I get it? Can’t they see through this ruse? It looks like these fanatical Islamists are patsies! Is not the main source of their ills their own rulers (which is NOT to say the US has not made colossal foreign policy mistakes)? And we buy the oil, thus funding our own attackers!

  • JT says:

    Great news. And conformation rather quickly, compared with past hits, attempts, and misses.

  • Gerald says:

    Another mass murderer bites the Dust!!

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Excellent. It still amazes me though that we’ve been more successful targeting the TTP than the Haqqanis. Somewhat disappointing.

  • EDDIED. says:

    Great, great shot. The USA will pursue terrorist and kill or capture them wherever they hide……..screw Paqistan.

  • Andy says:

    How dumb has Hakimullah Mehsud have to be to hang around in his old stomping grounds when 3 weeks ago one of his closest associates is captured by NATO?
    What part of get the hell out of town because your closest aide is being interrogated by your enemy didn’t he understand?
    Well I guess it wasn’t that realistic for him to leave. A hunted vermin will always remain a hunted vermin.

  • gitsum says:

    OUTSTANDING! Cheers to the dronepilot great work enjoy your weekend!

  • Dan says:

    If this is true and haki is dead along with his top 2 deputies, and latif mehsud is in us custody, im very interested in who will replace him. I think it
    will be either sajna mehsud or omar Khalid.

  • jayc says:

    Bill….All in all, like the Israeli’s say…There’s never a bad time to kill a good terrorist.

  • Tom Kelleher says:

    Hakeemullah “it’s just a flesh wound” Mehsud is one whose death has often been reported and just as often exaggerated, and it’s surprising to see such certitude in yet another report the U.S. isn’t confirming.
    Hopefully this time the sources got it right. I imagine there are plenty of young jihadists just achin’ for advancement…

  • Jim says:

    Come on Bill, enjoy the moment.

  • . says:

    Nice work!

  • . says:

    @ Wiser Now. Well said.

  • The TTP has announced 3 PM on saturday as the funeral for the slain leader.TTP has attacked funerals of their victims, why not this funeral be attacked by UAVs as there is no morality involved in this . It is war over there

  • Minnor says:

    This has been a really long war to journal.

  • Observer says:

    All this trouble for the leader of the TTP, while MO of the Afghan Taliban enjoys his luxurious house in Quetta or Peshawar.
    America wants to betray Afghanistan, and place the pro-Pakistan forces in charge.

  • jean says:

    This guy should have been taken out years ago. He wasn’t even considered a target until afar 2010, one year after Chapman.
    So, does this signal a change in our strategy? Do we plan to go after the rest of the clowns….after 11 years? We need to target the all top leadership, not just the senior field commanders. You don’t have to negotiate when the other side can’t come to the table. It’s called victory.

  • RC says:

    “Moreover, the US drone program has failed to halt the spread of al Qaeda, despite having killed more than 95 top al Qaeda, Taliban, and allied jihadist leaders in Pakistan alone since the first strike was launched in 2004.”
    Bill, I think this is a slightly overly simplistic view of the effect of the drone program on Al Quaeda.
    Yes; they’ve replaced 95+ top leaders over the last decade or so relatively easily — but what was the corporate effect of losing 95+ top leaders in less than a decade?
    Each time someone relatively high ranked is killed; it’s like shuffling the rolodex — while it’s easy for them to set up attacks in their known area of operations — Afghanistan or Pakistan — because they likely had contacts in that region before they became AQ #1 or #2; what about the plots that were being controlled by the previous top guy who was killed?
    Hypothetically speaking, what if Hakeemullah had developed a series of contacts in the shipping industry for his next planned attack on the United States — with his death, those contacts become unavailable to Al Quaeda — does Al Quaeda have a plan for information retention or do they sacrifice information retention for operational security?

  • Paul says:

    You are spot on.Wish our Govts/people realise the same thing!
    The funny thing the Pakis want to be like the Saudis but are shocked how they are treated like dirt in the Gulf LOL
    The Gulf is the root of all evil ie Saudi,Qatar,Kuwait and UAE fund all the sunni extremist groups whether in Afghan/Syria or Iraq.

  • Nolan says:

    I was hoping the capture of Latif Mehsud and the probable fracturing of the TTP after Waliur Rahman’s assassination would lead to something like this. I have to imagine that the TTP as a viable entity of war will crumble into several factions. The Haqqanis remain now as the most pertinent threat I would say. If however the TTP can rebound and restructure under a new leader I agree it may be Omar Khalid, or someone like Noor Jamal (Toofan). If someone of the South Waziristan faction must take charge, then Shameem Mehsud would be a top candidate.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I wasn’t addressing the effect of AQ plots against the West, but the effect on the spread of AQ groups overall. No doubt the death of AQ etc. leaders impacts the groups, but it hasn’t halted their spread.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Bill is absolutely correct. In fact “Al Qaeda” is now stronger as of right now than it ever has been. Why? Because local groups affiliated with them are popping up like mushrooms all over the world. They may not be all connected, but some of them are and if it’s individually or as part of a “coalition” they form a massive threat.
    Yes, he should have been taken out years ago, but he was a crafty struggler. He drove with precision, painted his vehicles with mud and even hid in small underground bunkers (apparently he didn’t hide in the cave networks like the other fighters because he was scared a bunker buster could hit them). Since there was a complete lack of a competent ground force to go after him it makes sense that he survived this long. UAV technology can only do so much and without a proper follow up action their damage can sometimes even be reversed. Reversed in the sense that they can recruit new fighters and replace their leaders.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Who are we kidding? our success is too skewed (mediocre vs Haqqani clan, outstanding vs TTP) for there not to be all kinds of ISI paw-prints along the line on pre-strike intel, if not – Machiavelli alert 1 – on target selection as well.
    Meanwhile – Machiavelli alert 2 – the Pakistani leadership pretends to rant and rave at us even as we do their heavy-lifting for them.
    The Indians have set up shop in the region to help their Afghan pals once we are gone, and have forward deployed IAF fighter squadrons just across the border at Farkhor in Tadjik-land, along with all kinds of military hospitals, logistics infrastructure, etc.
    Plus, the ever-present Russki bear lurks in the shadows due north of all this heat, dust and snows, watching and biding its time.
    The Afghan endgame should be one fun-filled story for us, as we begin trying to extract ourselves from the badlands.
    Hope Uncle Bob and Aunt May in Des Moines have their TV on – stay tuned, folks, the entertainment is just beginning…

  • Bungo says:

    I like your style Mirza but I don’t think the Soviets or the Indians are going to affect much from the sidelines. After ISAF leaves Afghanistan the insurgency will be extremely local and very low tech. But you are right about one thing, it Will be interesting. But probably more interesting to us and not so much to Uncle Bob and Aunt May. The mainstream media will assuradly ignore the bloody endgame.

  • Jean says:

    Our drone campaign reminds me of the lessons we have forgotten from Serbia. Our AF pals assured us that their armor formations were inop. But we saw hundreds of vehicles pulling back from after the cease – fire and we did have boots on the ground. Airpower- drones is only part of the solution. Glad he is gone, but we need to hit the Quetta Shura, they operate in plain sight.
    My COA- Hit their entire infrastructure on our way out. Every cell phone beep, any building or training camp both sides of border combined with SOF raids on known targets, then hand Karazi the keys to the monkey cage, demo the good stuff and leave them some treadmills and a couple cases of RIP IT.

  • Mirza Charoc, le Roi de Herat says:

    Bungo: The Indians are spending big bucks winning hearts and minds all over Afghanland. They have serious designs.
    The Haqqanis principally target Americans and Indians for a reason.
    Besides, it is real easy for them to stick their people into the region, while it is not unlikely that the Russkis can use convenient overland supply lines from Mother Russia to support the Indians with all the very same hardware that they use back in India, so logistics may not be as difficult for the Indians as it is for us.
    This is not just for kicks: Akhnoor – Sialkot – Lahore on Pakistan’s Eastern Front is the main deal for the Indians and Pakistanis, so just in case things go south in their inevitable next war, the more ways to relieve pressure there, the merrier for the Indians. Afghanistan over to their West is perfect for them, strategically.
    Besides, the Indians are in real thick with their protege El Presidente Kurzayi. Plus Dostum and others of the former Northern Alliance – In fact, Ahmad Shah Mahsoud may have died in an Indian military hospital in Tadjik when The Qaeda got to him just before 9/11, and so on and on @ enormous and very deep Indian efforts there.
    But why debate it now, all we have to do is wait and see – time will tell.
    As for low-tech wars, lest we forget, it was only the other day that Hannibal Barca and allied forces managed to kill 50,000+ Romans in a little over 5 hours at Cannae using just swords, bare hands and teeth, and never mind that EMP, so there we go…
    BTW, I know people, who know people, and all that jazz – very public buzz in Islam-a-bad is that COAS Kayani and the Corps commanders went ballistic and were getting set for a serious shock and awe number on the TTP after the Taliban tagged Gen. Niazi.
    To make it worse, there was even talk of faint shimmers and disturbances in The Force, indicating that COAS himself might be a target for the TTP before he passed the baton.
    So the army was getting all set to mount up and move out at midnight, as it were.
    Apparently the military was then temporarily pacified after major league hand wringing and abject grovelling by the civilian leadership, who desperately wanted to start any kind of dialog with elements within the TTP, although not likely anyone in the rabidly-extremist Hakimullah Mehsud core group.
    The latest successful drone strike may have been the Army getting us to zero-in on cousin Hakimullah, thusly going around Pakistani politicians and settling the Gen. Niazi score, while preserving ye olde plausible deniability.
    So in all their yelling and screaming, I think it is understood that the Paki civvies does not see us as the bad guys in this instance, so much as their military.
    In fact, folks in Pakistan privately feel that we did them a big favor in disrupting the secret anti-Pakistan alliance that was developing between Afghan intel services and the TTP, when we captured Latif Mehsud.
    But that clown Imran Khan could still get the Khyber shut down all the same.
    So it goes.

  • port_blair says:

    Well this is insufficient. Unless the Hafiz Saeed,
    Hamid Gul types are wiped out and the drone strikes
    include Pak ISI agents this will have to continue.
    Imran Khan and his family deserve the same fate.

  • Paul F Davis says:

    Nice work team drone! Peace to Pakistan and freedom from terrorists. God give the Pakistani leaders a heart and backbone to root out terrorists from Pakistan and not fear religious terrorists.


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