Reports say Pakistani Taliban leader died in drone strike
Hakimullah Mehsud, who had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square and other assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and security forces.
The New York Times
LONDON — A U.S. drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, on Friday, according to Pakistani intelligence officials and militant commanders in the tribal belt.
If confirmed, his death would be a major achievement for the CIA program at a time drones have come under renewed scrutiny over civilian deaths in Pakistan and the United States.
Mehsud, 34, who was on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist list with a $5 million bounty, is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square and other assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and security forces.
The ruthless commander, who was closely allied with al-Qaida, was widely reported to have been killed in 2010 — only to resurface later. But this time, there was a proliferation of accounts from multiple sources — including the militants and a U.S. military official — that he had died in the missile attack.
“Hakimullah has been martyred,” said a local Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity by phone from the tribal belt.
The Obama administration and the CIA declined to comment. But a U.S. defense official said the United States was confident of Mehsud’s demise.
The television network Al-Jazeera quoted Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid as confirming Mehsud’s death.
The CIA killed Mehsud’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, in South Waziristan in August 2009. Friday’s strike occurred in Dande Derpa Khel, a well-known militant stronghold in North Waziristan tribal area, near the Afghan border.
Pakistani officials said CIA-operated drones fired at least four missiles at a compound that had been built for Mehsud about a year ago.
One Pakistani official, citing intelligence reports, said five militants had been killed including Mehsud, his uncle and a bodyguard. Two more people were wounded.
The Pakistani official said the drone strike also killed Mehsud’s deputy, Abdullah Behar, who had just taken over from Latif Mahsud, a militant commander who was detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan last month.
Tribesmen said they planned to bury Mehsud on Saturday, when the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is due to return to Pakistan from London, where he has been holding talks with British officials and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
His death could throw into disarray plans by Sharif’s government to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
A delegation of three clerics from Punjab province that had been hand-picked by Sharif had been due to travel to the tribal belt Saturday to initiate talks with the Pakistani Taliban and two other militant groups. The group had now been stopped from proceeding, a senior security official said.
The reports of Mehsud’s death Friday met an uneasy welcome across Pakistan.
Some celebrated the demise of a ruthless militant responsible for much suffering, and who had evaded long-standing Pakistani efforts to capture or kill him.
“All peace loving Pakistanis should be satisfied that a monster who had unleashed terror in Pakistan and elsewhere is dead,” said Pervez Musharraf, the former military leader, who is under house arrest.
But Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan described the U.S. action as a calculated blow against the fledgling peace process.
Imran Khan, the former cricketer whose party rules Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said he would seek to block NATO supply lines in retaliation; one of his deputies called for the Pakistani military to attack U.S. drones. “Now, one thing is proven,” Khan said in a television interview. “Whenever Pakistan has attempted talks, drone attacks have sabotaged them.”
Other Pakistanis feared a violent backlash led by militants carrying out suicide attacks across the country. Those fears were borne out in comments by one commander in the tribal belt. “Our revenge will be unprecedented,” said Abu Omar, a Taliban commander in Miram Shah, speaking by phone. Omar said he considered the Pakistani government “fully complicit” in the drone strike.
Friday’s drone strike comes just over a week after Sharif met with President Obama in the White House. Although Pakistani leaders regularly condemn drone attacks, a growing body of evidence suggests they have quietly cooperated with at least some drone strikes over the years.
Still, after the strike Friday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a pro-forma condemnation, employing the usual language about the U.S. action’s being a violation of Pakistan’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.