US officials stuck to their belief that Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed last week, amid reports a CIA drone fired missiles at him as he was getting a leg massage on the roof of his father-in-law’s house.
A US counterterrorism official told AFP on Monday “there are strong indications (Mehsud) is dead” following a missile attack launched from unmanned aircraft.
“No one is expecting him home for dinner tonight,” the official said.
US President Barack Obama is being told Mehsud was killed after a “dramatic escalation” of aerial surveillance, with nine unmanned drones assigned to target the Taliban leader, a US official told CNN television.
On Wednesday night, US surveillance in Pakistan spied a man on the roof of Mehsud’s father-in-law’s home in South Waziristan.
The description was of a “short, stocky man who was following the physical description” of Mehsud, CNN said, citing the intelligence official.
A woman was massaging the man’s leg and the Central Intelligence Agency knew Mehsud had diabetes, experienced pain in his legs, and often sought relief in that way, the report said.
Officials already had authorization from Obama to strike Mehsud if they thought they had a clear shot.
“That’s when the CIA decided to move in,” the network reported.
A top Taliban commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, earlier on Monday challenged Pakistan to prove that Mehsud was dead, insisting in a telephone call to AFP that the warlord was still alive.
Although Pakistan said it believed Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack along with his wife on Wednesday, there has been confusion over his fate.
Both governments have stopped short of confirming his death.
White House national security advisor Jim Jones said on Sunday that the United States was “90 per cent” sure Baitullah Mehsud had died after a US missile strike.
“The Pakistani government believes he is and all the evidence we have suggests that,” Jones said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
Jones and Pakistani officials also said dissension has emerged in the ranks of the Taliban over who should succeed Baitullah Mehsud.
Hakimullah Mehsud said the insurgent group would issue a message in the next three to four days proving Baitullah Mehsud was still alive.
Hakimullah said Baitullah was only “a bit sick.”
He did confirm to AFP, however, that Baitullah’s wife had been killed in an attack, adding that the Taliban would soon avenge her death.