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Taliban's Mehsud: Promoted and killed by US drones


Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-11-02

In 2009, following the killing of then Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike, a young Hakimullah Mehsud became the leader of the militant group – until his death four years later in another US drone attack.

A week after visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged US President Barack Obama to end drone strikes during a White House meeting, a drone attack in northwest Pakistan killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, according to intelligence and militant sources.

A rakishly handsome man with a reputation for audacious attacks and reckless driving, Mehsud was the target of numerous raids by the Pakistani army as well as US drone strikes.

Over the past few years, the Pakistani Taliban chief has been reported dead several times – only to resurface within days, granting interviews to local reporters and releasing audio messages stating, “I am saying it again - I am alive.”

But on Friday, reports of Mehsud’s death appeared to be the most credible so far, with multiple Pakistani security and intelligence sources saying the militant chief was dead.

A senior US intelligence official also told the Associated Press that the US had received positive confirmation Friday morning that Mehsud had been killed.

For security experts familiar with previous claims of Mehsud’s death, the Taliban’s confirmation of the news and an announcement that his funeral was set for Saturday added a measure of credibility to the latest report.

The Pakistani government however has yet to confirm the killing, with the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan telling a local TV station that he could not verify reports of Mehsud’s death.

In the end, it was a drone strike that enabled Mehsud’s rise to the top spot in the Tehreek-e-Taliban – as the Pakistani Taliban is known – and it was a drone strike that brought about his demise.

Driving ‘like a man possessed’

Born in the remote South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan around 1980, Mehsud was appointed head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban following the death of previous chief, Baitullah Mehsud, from injuries sustained during a US drone strike in August 2009, according to Taliban spokesmen.

Following the previous Taliban leader’s death, there were reports of clashes between rival factions to determine the successor to their slain chief.

The reports of in-fighting were never confirmed by the Taliban. By all accounts, the young Mehsud would prove to be the undisputed chief of the Pakistani Taliban, granting interviews to journalists and driving panicked news teams around the tribal areas at breakneck speed.

Several reporters who met Mehsud described him as a handsome man who radiated danger.

"He [would] drive like a man possessed, manoeuvring around razor sharp bends at barely possible speeds... braking inches short of a several hundred-foot drop," said the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan.

Expecting a backlash

The menace was not restricted to his demeanour alone.

One of the most unforgettable images of Mehsud’s short, violent life was a video released in January 2010 which featured the Taliban chief alongside a Jordanian national who attacked a CIA forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan.

On December 30, 2009, Jordanian national Humam al-Balawi attacked Forward Operating Base Camp Chapman, killing seven CIA officials in the worst attack against the US spy agency since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing.

Al-Balawi claimed the attack was in retaliation for the killing of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

Following Friday’s report of Mehsud’s death, FRANCE 24’s Pakistan correspondent, Taha Siddiqui said, “Military officials and government officials are expecting a backlash in the country by the Pakistani Taliban.”

But Siddiqui also noted that in recent months, the Pakistani Taliban has lost several senior commanders in US drone strikes.

In May, Mehsud’s second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed in a US drone strike.

“Right now, if you look at the structure of the Taliban, the second in command was already killed earlier this year. So there is nobody to take over the Pakistani Taliban,” said Siddiqui.

Mehsud’s killing comes at a sensitive time, just as the Pakistani government had announced plans for peace talks with the Taliban.

Previous peace deals between the Taliban and Pakistani authorities have failed, leading to increased attacks.

In an interview with the BBC in early October, Mehsud insisted that for any ceasefire to be credible "it is important that drone strikes are stopped".

But if US drone strikes continue to successfully target some of the world’s most wanted militants such as Hakimullah Mehsud, Washington may be in no mood to end its controversial drone strikes programme in Pakistan.


Date created : 2013-11-01

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