Friday, August 7, 2009

Good news: Pakistan's Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud killed

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – Pakistan's Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who led a violent campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations against the Pakistani government, has been killed in a U.S. missile strike, a militant commander and aide to Mehsud said Friday.

Taliban commanders were meeting to decide on his successor, intelligence and militant sources said.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said intelligence showed Mehsud had been killed in Wednesday's missile strike on his father-in-law's house in Pakistan's lawless tribal area, but authorities would travel to the site to verify his death.
Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials said the CIA was behind the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan," Taliban commander Kafayat Ullah told The Associated Press by telephone. He would not give any further details.
Mehsud's demise would be a major boost to Pakistani and U.S. efforts to eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaida, but would not necessarily deal a definitive blow to the Taliban in Pakistan. Mehsud has deputies who could step into his place.

Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Taliban commanders were meeting in the lawless tribal areas Friday to choose a replacement. It was unclear when they might reach a decision.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials said the likeliest successor was Mehsud's deputy, Hakim Ullah, a commander known for recruiting and training suicide bombers. Two other prominent possibilities, the officials said, were Azmat Ullah and Waliur Rehman, also close associates of Mehsud.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Whether a new leader could wreak as much havoc as Mehsud depends largely on how much pressure the Pakistani military continues to put on the network, especially in South Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal belt. The mountainous region has a leaky border with Afghanistan and fiercely independent, heavily armed tribes hostile to interference by outsiders. The Pashtun tribes from which the Taliban draws most of its fighters straddle both sides of the border.

Although Mehsud's stronghold in South Waziristan does not directly border Afghanistan, he was known to have ties to other commanders acting on the frontier and was believed to give refuge to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan who move freely back and forth across the border.

Mehsud has al-Qaida connections and has been suspected in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan views him as its top internal threat and has been preparing an offensive against him.

For years, the U.S. considered Mehsud a lesser threat to its interests than some of the other Pakistani Taliban, their Afghan counterparts and al-Qaida, because most of his attacks were focused inside Pakistan, not against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

That view appeared to change in recent months as Mehsud's power grew and concerns mounted that increasing violence in Pakistan could destabilize the U.S. ally and threaten the entire region.

The Pakistani intelligence officials said Mehsud's body was buried in the village of Nardusai in South Waziristan, near the site of the missile strike.

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