by Omer Farooq Khan
ISLAMABAD: The chief of Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud survived an American drone attack in the northwestern tribal region of the country in January, and is alive and well, intelligence sources said.
Last January, Pakistan’s state-run TV station reported that Mehsud, 32, was killed in a US drone strike in South Waziristan where Pakistan’s military launched an offensive last October.
Mehsud’s apparent survival will be a major setback for the CIA, which intensified efforts to kill the dreaded young Taliban leader early this year after he appeared in a video alongside an al-Qaeda operative who killed seven CIA officials in Afghanistan in December late.
“The US government is under pressure because it is unable to achieve much in Afghanistan. This is one way of hitting their al-Qaeda enemies, as they define them,” the official said.
Mehsud rose to prominence in 2007 with the humiliating kidnapping of over 200 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan. In 2008 Baitullah Mehsud appointed him to head Taliban in three tribal regions—Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai.
He also masterminded attacks on NATO convoys in Peshawar and Khyber tribal region, near the Afghan border. In Orakzai tribal agency, which was under his sway, Taliban fighters preyed on minority Sikhs and carried out bloody sectarian attacks on Shias.
Hakimullah became Taliban leader in August after a CIA drone killed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) founder, Baitullah Mehsud. He also became known for cruelty.
Pakistani intelligence officials now say that Mehsud was only wounded in the attack. From the outset, the Taliban consistently denied that he was dead.
It took Taliban about three weeks to confirm that Hakimullah Mehsud’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in a drone attack last August.
Mehsud’s leadership has been challenged by other figures, too, including his rival Wali-ur-Rehman. “He may not be in the leadership position,” the intelligence official said.
Accurate information independently from the Pakistan’s tribal regions where the Taliban leader is based is difficult because the area is remote and dangerous and there are legal restrictions on who can visit.
Apr 30, 2010