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Latest update : 2009-08-10

President Barack Obama's national security adviser has said US certainty that Baitullah Mehsud died in a US missile strike is "in the 90 percent category." He called the news "a big deal" that has already stirred dissension in insurgent ranks.

AFP - President Barack Obama's national security advisor on Sunday hailed the reported killing of the Pakistani Taliban's leader as "a big deal" that has already has stirred dissension in the insurgent ranks.

US national security adviser Jim Jones put the level of US certainty that Baitullah Mehsud died Wednesday in a US missile strike "in the 90 percent category."

"Pakistan has confirmed it. We know that there reports from the Mehsud tribe that he wasn't. But the evidence is pretty conclusive," Jones said in an interview with NBC News.

"This is a big deal," Jones said.

He said it meant that US efforts to forge closer security ties with the Pakistani military were "moving in the right direction," and that the Pakistanis were "doing quite well in terms of their fight against extremism."

"Baitullah was the public enemy number one in Pakistan, so its their biggest target," he said.

Jones said he could not confirm reports that another top Pakistani Taliban commander was killed in a shootout with a rival.

"It certainly appears there is dissension in the ranks. That's not a bad thing for us," Jones told Fox television.

"I won't say it's a tipping point, but it certainly shows that we're having some success," he said.

The Pakistani government said it was investigating the report of a shootout between Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, and Wali-ur Rehman, a senior commander in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan movement.

Jones said US and Pakistani intelligence sharing has grown and that the US and Pakistani military are working more closely together on Afghanistan as well.

In the TV interviews, Jones also said the United States has not ruled out sending more troops to Afghanistan but should first see what effect its new strategy is having.

He confirmed an account in The Washington Post that he told military commanders during a visit to Afghanistan in late June that if they asked for more troops now, "the president would quite likely have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment."

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was widely understood to stand for "What the (expletive)."

But Jones said what he meant was that "we have yet to be able to measure the implementation of the new strategy, so if you have recommendations, make it in the context of the new strategy."

"We have learned one thing in six years," he told CBS television. "This is not just about troop strength."

General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, has been making an assessment of the situation and was thought to be preparing the ground for a request for more troops.

But at an unannounced meeting in Belgium last weekend, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave him until the end of September to complete his assessment, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Obama has already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan since taking office, with the US force soon to reach 68,000.

Date created : 2009-08-09