Reports — or more accurately, rumors — continue to spread regarding a shoot-out at a Taliban Shura to choose a successor to the possibly-probably-dead Baitullah Mehsud. See a Monday morning report (below) that claims two prominent candidates killed each other. The picture above is said to be of a more peaceful Waziristan Shura held in November 2008. (photographer unknown)
(Early Sunday morning post) Most news outlets seem increasingly confident in reporting the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban-in-Pakistan. But Bill Roggio with the Long War Journal makes a case for skepticism, or just a bit of restraint. In a post made very early Sunday morning US time, Roggio writes:
While it is still unknown if Baitullah survived the strike or perished, the Pakistani government’s track record accurately reporting on the death of senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders is poor [see the list below]. The Taliban, on the other hand, have been honest about the death of their senior leaders. Each time they refuted a claim of a leader being killed, they have been able to prove the commander is alive. (See Pakistani claims… are suspect.)
Yesterday media reports and authoritative sources were proclaiming the death of Noordin Mohamed Top, the most wanted terrorist bomber in Indonesia.
But this morning several news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, are reporting doubts. Tom Wright writes:
Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri declined to confirm Mr. Noordin’s death on Saturday afternoon, saying police would wait for DNA tests on the body, which should take about a week. Later, pictures began to circulate of the man shot dead in the bathroom of a farmhouse near Temanggung, a town in central Java, a province on Indonesia’s main island where Mr. Noordin is believed to have spent most of the past six years on the run. Those pictures didn’t look like Mr. Noordin, according to people who have seen them. (See Doubts arise…)
Apparently US, Pakistani, and Indonesian security forces failed to deploy sufficient silver bullets, ivory crucifixes, and mirrors. Has anyone considered carpet-bombing with garlic?
HLSWatch typically avoids breaking news stories such as the unfolding saga of these two. I have broken with our typical focus on policy and strategy because, 1) I have perceived Baitullah as a significant strategic player in Afpak, with ambitions for a wider role. I believe his demise would/could prompt some interesting strategic shifts. 2) I have a personal interest related to the July Jakarta bombing for which Noordin has taken credit. 3) The coincidence of their presumed deaths and the increasing confusion over whether they are alive or dead raise issues of strategic communications and operational technique. 4) It’s the weekend and I am less disciplined in making editorial choices.
See yesterday’s aggregation and comments by scrolling to the story with pictures below.
Some Sunday morning coverage:
Deadly shootout at Taliban talks (Aljazeera)
Noordin DNA tests could take two weeks (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Jakarta bomb suspect “not killed”(Aljazeera)
Sunday evening update:
Taliban in Turmoil (TimesOnline UK)
Mystery over Noordin Mohammed Top thickens (Long War Journal)
Indonesia needs to destroy Noordin’s network (Bloomberg)
Monday morning update:
Indonesian police “very confident” Noordin M. Top dead (Long War Journal)
Hakeemullah and Wali both dead (DAWN, but reprinted from Associated Press of Pakistan, the official government outlet)
At roughly 9:30 am (eastern) Dera Ismail Khan, a reporter for the Associated Press, filed a one-liner saying he has received a telephone call from an individual claiming to be Hakimullah Mehsud, one of those alledged to have been killed in the Shura shoot-out. Khan has previously interviewed Hakimullah and said the voice was consistent with his memory of the Taliban leader’s voice.
At roughly 10:40 am (eastern) Zeeshan Haider, a reporter for Reuters, files a similar — but more complete — report of a telephone conversation with Hakimullah, who claims Mehsud is still alive. The other party in the alleged shoot-out has also been reported making phone calls.
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12
The BBC is reporting, “DNA tests show that a man killed in a weekend raid was not Noordin Mohammed Top, one of the region’s most wanted men, Indonesian police say.”