02 February 2010

Pakistani Taliban Leader Dead?

Reports continue to circulate claiming that Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), is dead after suffering wounds from a mid-January drone strike. Several Pakistani officials have claimed that Mehsud had died sometime at the end of January based on "word of mouth" (aka HUMINT) confirmation, according to a report today from ABC News. However, US intelligence officials have yet to confirm the EKIA reports and the TTP was quick to issue a statement denying the death of their leader. According to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, reports of Mehsud's death are premature. Hakimullah's spokesman (Azam Tariq) issued a statement saying, "Hakimullah is alive and safe." Additionally, one of Mehsud's subordinate commanders, and a potential successor, (Qari Hussein Mehsud) called the Pakistani press to issue a similar statement.

For further background on Mehsud and the key role he plays within TTP, check out JD's excellent profile here and this article from the CTC Sentinel.

If in fact the reports are true, we are likely to see another potential struggle over who would take over leadership of the TTP (similar to the reported infighting that occurred after the August 2009 death of the former TTP leader, Baitullah Mehsud). The top three contenders to assume the key role include:
  • Wali-ur-Rehman, the young deputy leader who functions as the group's operational commander

  • Qari Hussein, who oversees the suicide bomb program and is Hakimullah's cousin

  • Saeed Khan Mamozai, a local commander from Orakzai tribal agency
Al Sahwa will continue to monitor open-source reporting and provide updates and analysis on this critical story as more information becomes available.


  1. Their denials don't mean much. If memory serves they denied Baitullah's death for weeks or months after the fact. That isn't to say that Hakimullah can't be alive, simply that barring a sudden public appearance (verifiable) we should consider him to be possibly dead.

  2. Gyre:

    I agree. And you're right, it took several weeks to announce the death of Baitullah Mehsud this summer. Along these lines, today Hakimullah's spokesman (Azam Tariq) announced that the group did not plan to release a video of their leader, which is in direct contrast to his statement from the day before. In my mind, this makes it more likely that Hakimullah is in fact dead.

    Also, for some more background on the top TTP leaders (and likely successors), check out this excellent article from the CS Monitor.

  3. Pat/Gyre,

    The one aspect of this story that makes me think Hakimullah is still alive is the lack of a public announcement naming an interim leader. I think it is imperative for any terrorist or criminal organization to immediately appoint new leadership or interim leadership to hold the group together. I doubt that the TTP could have an interim leader appointed without the open source media catching wind of it. Even if Hakeemullah was severely wounded and could possible make a recovery, the TTP would still need to appoint an interim leader. Faqir Mohammad filled this role following Baitullah Mehsud's death, I see no reason why Faqir would not fill this role following Hakeemullah's death.

  4. @JD: That's true, but I think even Faqir's appointment took some time. It's also possible that their organization is sufficiently disrupted that that hasn't happened yet.
    Of course I will admit that this is arguing from the 'dead' perspective, but I'm doing that on purpose. If it's a matter where neither party is certain of whether or not they're right I like to deliberately take the opposing side. It keeps debate interesting.