Taliban commander reportedly alive, despite claims of January death

Friday, April 30, 2010

According to Pakistani intelligence, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, is still alive, contradicting claims by US and Pakistani officials that he was killed in a January drone attack.

At the time of the attack, officials reported that Mehsud was killed along with ten other rebels, but Pakistani sources now say he was only wounded in the attack. According to unidentified sources, his authority within the Taliban had significantly diminished after the attack, and is now overshadowed by other commanders such as Waliur Rehman. Four officers from Pakistan's main spy agency said that they believed Mehsud was alive, citing both surveillance of the Taliban, as well as reports from sources within the Taliban.

Despite his apparent survival, US defense officials downplayed the significance of the revelation. A spokesman for the Pentagon in Washington, DC said that there was "no evidence" that Mehsud was "executing or exerting authority over the Pakistan Taliban as he once did", adding: "I don't know if that reflects him being alive or dead, but he clearly is not running the Pakistani Taliban anymore."

The Taliban continuously denied reports Mehsud was killed, although they refused to offer proof such as videos, saying it could pin Mehsud to a specific location. According to the BBC, however, claims that Mehsud had been killed were always suspect, as the Taliban neither officially announced his death nor announced a new leader that would have taken his place - both common practices.