Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 6, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud may or may not be dead

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 6, 2009

At an early dinner my handheld was vibrating so much, I broke my longtime rule, was rude to my guests, and watched the Emails cascade down the screen.

Pakistan Taliban chief likely killed, Pakistan’s Interior Minister was being quoted as saying.

Pakistan Taliban chief Mehsud may be dead, an unnamed US official told AFP.

There were lots more links from NPR, CNN, BBC, and other alphabet combinations. I cannot say the news had any effect on my appetite.

Then a few moments ago another ping arrived from the Long War Journal.  Bill Roggio reports, “Baitullah Mehsud was not killed in yesterday’s airstrike in South Waziristan, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. ‘Baitullah is alive,’  one official told The Long War Journal. “We’re aware of the reports that he might have been killed and we are looking into it, but we don’t believe he was killed.”

So I guess we will have to wait a bit longer for the rest of the story.  Good night and good luck.


As of 0430 (eastern) on Friday, media reports — and official comments — seem to be leaning in favor of Mehsud’s death.  The Guardian (see below) reports, “In perhaps the strongest sign that Mehsud is dead, reports emerged that his organisation, the feared Tehrik I Taliban Pakistan (TTP), plans to hold a leadership council today to elect a successor. Mehsud’s most senior lieutenant, Hakeemullah Mehsud, is the favourite candidate.”

Baitullah Mehsud dead: FM Qureshi (DAWN)

Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud believed dead in air strike (The Guardian)

Mehsud’s rival tribesman says Baitullah killed in drone attack (Bloomberg)

UPDATE (August 8):

At the Long War Journal Bill Roggio offers his analysis of the implications if Baitullah is dead.  Among  several important outcomes, he writes, “The death of Baitullah will cause a crisis in the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership, and may disrupt operations in the short term. Although the Pakistani Taliban has often been described as disparate, Baitullah effectively united the factions and directed operations that led to the Taliban’s takeover of significant territory in Pakistan’s northwest. The Taliban will expend time and effort determining Baitullah’s successor, restructuring the group’s leadership, and outlining its new direction. Attacks in Pakistan already had decreased over the past month as the Pakistani Army took on the Taliban in Swat. Since going underground, the Pakistani Taliban have been regrouping and are planning the next phase of their insurgency. It is unclear if the Taliban will refocus effort onto Afghanistan or continue attacks against the Pakistani state.”

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 6, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

To be honest, I don’t think it matters for the overall strategic picture.

This is beginning to remind me of the hunt for Zarqawi. So many resources were poured into that search, but once killed it did not eliminate the overall insurgent threat in Iraq.

If Mehsud is killed, his particular group may lose influence. But the overall issue of insurgents in Pakistan (and Pakistan’s reluctance to shift focus away from India toward this issue) will not disappear.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 6, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

Fully agree with Arnold! I have problems with headhunting by UAV and Predator. Complicated reasoning so will save for later. Hey! Once again we prove to the world that if the US develops a new technology for killing we will use it whatever the long term impacts.

Comment by Clinton J. Andersen

August 6, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

Agreed. Even if we were to pick off the leaders one-by-one the hierarchy is such that another just picks up and runs with the plan. It’s not your traditional “Kill the leader, kill the operation” deal.

I also look forward to the future UAV/Predator headhunting post. :-)

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 7, 2009 @ 3:58 am

I will be a bit contrarian. Taking out Baitullah will certainly not kill the snake, but I think it could considerably impact the reach of the snake.
Baitullah is (was?) especially ambitious. Where most of his peers and competitors are parochial in their passions, Baitullah’s aim included Barcelona and Washington. Many among his tribe and within his tribal alliances found him unnecessarily provocative, even over-reaching. If these are in the majority — and he is dead — his successor is likely to be chosen to do what is necessary to preserve tribal independence and identity… and no more.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 7, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

Many skilled followers mask their ambition until sure their leader is dead! Who is to say what ambitions lurk in the heads and hearts of potential successors to Paki Taliban leadership or any leadership. Compare TEDDY Roosevelt’s ambitions to his predessor!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 7, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

Bill Roggio at Long War Journal pretty much owns this story. Fabulous, fabulous work. His posts today are certainly more supportive of your judgments than mine. Please see: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/08/baitullah_mehsuds_po.php

The BBC provides helpful context, including some (very) weak support for my argument. Please see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8190277.stm

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