Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is now believed to have survived a US missile strike earlier this year, but has lost clout within the militant network, a senior intelligence official said Thursday.
The revelation contradicts initial confidence among US and Pakistani intelligence officials that the brash militant leader had been killed in a mid-January missile attack in the Waziristan stretch of the northwest tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
The Taliban denied Mehsud was killed, but declined to offer evidence he was alive to not compromise his safety. Mehsud was seen alive in North Waziristan about three months ago, after the missile strike.
Since then, electronic surveillance, independent probes and reports from multiple sources in the field, including Taliban, led to the conclusion that Mehsud survived with slight wounds, the official said on condition of anonymity.
But Mehsud’s power has lessened, and other Taliban commanders, such as Waliur Rehman, are now overshadowing him, the official told AP.
Two other intelligence officials in the northwest said over the past several days they had determined that Mehsud was alive.
Getting accurate, verifiable information independently from Pakistan’s tribal regions is very difficult. The area is remote, dangerous, and there are legal restrictions on who can visit.