Friday, January 15, 2010

CIA strikes back: Top Pakistan Taliban leader believed killed in drone missile strike

Hakimullah Mehsud as he looked before a Hellfire missile mashed him up

Hakimullah Mehsud took over the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban only last August after a CIA drone-fired missile strike killed the previous Taliban kingpin, Baithullah Mehsud.

Now, another CIA missile strike may have killed Hakimullah in Pakistan's wild North Waziristan region:

A CIA drone strike on a suspected militant hideout today killed 12 people in an attack aimed at killing the top Taleban commander in Pakistan.

A local tribal leader said Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in the early-morning raid, but the Taleban insisted he was still alive. Pakistani officials have not yet made any claim over his fate.

In the strike a pair of missiles hit a mud-walled compound which previously housed an Islamic seminary in Pasalkot village in North Waziristan where Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taleban movement, was believed to be staying.

Pakistani security officials confirmed Mehsud was the target. He had succeeded Baithullah Mehsud last year after he was killed in a drone strike on his house in South Waziristan last August.

Since the December suicide bombing attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA personnel, far from dealing CIA operations a blow, the missile strikes have come faster and more furious:

The drone strikes have intensified in the region since then. As many as 45 people have been killed in eight strikes in the past two weeks. Last weekend, a Jordanian militant who served as a bodyguard for al-Qaeda's third in command is believed to have been killed in one of two strikes close to Mir Ali.

We last saw Hakimullah just days ago when the mass murderer was trying to glom onto some "credit" for the attack on the CIA:

If confirmed, the death of Mehsud would come as a very serious blow to the Taleban, which has been responsible for most of the deaths of over 700 people in terrorist attacks inside Pakistan in the past year.

Last week the Taleban released a video showing Mehsud sitting with the Jordanian double agent who carried out the suicide bombing at the CIA base. The attack demonstrated the close links between Pakistani Taleban and al-Qaeda.

If he escaped this time, there will be a next time -- probably very soon.

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UPDATE -- The Times of India reports that the Taliban says Hakimullah Mehsud was "injured" in the missile strike but is not dead. We'll see. When Baithullah Mehsud was killed last August, the Taliban was loathe to confirm his death, in part due to an immediate internal struggle for leadership.

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