Mystery surrounded the fate of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud after fresh reports that Pakistani and US officials believe he is dead, despite the militant group’s denials.
US missile attacks have repeatedly targeted Mehsud, the head of Pakistan’s most powerful Taliban faction and involved in a December suicide attack on the CIA in Afghanistan — the deadliest attack on the US spy agency in 26 years.
Speculation about his death surfaced after a January 14 U.S. drone strike in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border, but Mehsud purportedly released two audio statements denying his demise.
On January 17, a day after Mehsud’s last statement, a U.S. drone carried out another attack that officials said also targeted the militant leader.
Killing Mehsud would be a coup for the United States, which stepped up its drone war in Pakistan after the warlord claimed the December 30 bombing that killed five CIA officers and two contractors in southeastern Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials said they were seeking confirmation of differing reports about his possible demise — published by The New York Times and briefly on Pakistan’s state television on Sunday.
The Taliban flatly deny he is dead.
“The report is confusing and we are not sure. We are investigating. We are trying to get confirmation,” a senior intelligence official told AFP.
There were reports Mehsud was wounded when a U.S. missile hit his vehicle on January 14 in the Shaktoi area of North Waziristan.
He was reportedly taken more than 100 kilometres to Orakzai, elsewhere in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt for medical help but the intelligence official told AFP that the doctor in question denied treating him.
“It could be Mehsud’s own bluffing game. The report may have been circulated to divert US attention because he was being repeatedly chased and targeted by the U.S. spy planes,” he said.
A Pakistani military official said there were other unconfirmed reports that Mehsud was wounded when a Pakistani helicopter shelled suspected Taliban hideouts in the Mamoonzai area of Orakzai last week.
“We are investigating to verify the authenticity of the reports,” he said.