Proof of Taliban leader's death elusive

Pakistani army troops patrol a road in Kabal, a town in the troubled Swat Valley, on Tuesday. Skirmishes with militants continue, although the offensive is winding down.

Associated Press

Pakistani army troops patrol a road in Kabal, a town in the troubled Swat Valley, on Tuesday. Skirmishes with militants continue, although the offensive is winding down.

ISLAMABAD — Finding and killing Pakistan's most-wanted militant was a difficult task. Proving his death may be even harder.

Most indicators point to Baitullah Mehsud's death in a CIA missile strike last week, and the U.S. government says it's "90 percent" sure of it.

But the Pakistani and U.S. governments will have a tough time confirming the death because the Taliban control the South Waziristan region, a remote, mountainous tribal area where the drone-fired missile reportedly destroyed the home of Mehsud's father-in-law. While officials initially talked of sending a team to collect DNA from the site, that possibility now looks increasingly dim.

"At the moment, it is inaccessible," Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said Tuesday, adding that a planned ground operation in South Waziristan is still pending while aerial assaults soften up the area by bombing militant targets.

In the absence of a body, the Taliban and the Pakistani government have been waging competing propaganda campaigns over the state of the militants' leadership.

Pakistani officials and a rival militant commander at one point suggested that not only was Mehsud dead, but also his two top deputies — supposedly slain in a shootout over succession. Both deputies later telephoned reporters. Mehsud, so far, has not made an attempt to contact the media.

The Taliban could prove their case by producing a video of Mehsud. Taliban commanders were promised that Mehsud would address them by wireless radio Sunday night; instead, his two deputies came on the air urging followers not to be discouraged, a militant commander told the Associated Press.

A posting on an international jihadist Web site recently suggests that doubts may be spreading even among hard-line Islamists.

The message, translated by the SITE institute that monitors extremist traffic, proclaims "Baitullah Mehsud is Alive in Pakistan!" But it also offers a carefully worded appeal for proof.

The best evidence of Mehsud's demise may eventually come with the emergence of a new leader of his Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said political analyst Mohammed Amir Rana.

Missile hits camp

A U.S. missile slammed into a compound suspected to be a camp of the Mehsud clan on Tuesday, intelligence officials and Taliban commanders said, killing between six and 14 people. The compound is in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, two intelligence officials in Islamabad said.

Proof of Taliban leader's death elusive 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:54am]

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...