Taliban leader allegedly killed in U.S. drone attack

Pakistani officials state that intercepted Taliban communications indicate that their leader may have been killed in a U.S. drone strike, on Jan. 12.

Taliban officials have denied the claim.

According to the New York Times, Pakistani intelligence officials are reporting that they  intercepted at least six radio conversations that discussed the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. At one point in the discussion, his death was confirmed.

Mehsud, formerly the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was a young and aggressive field commander, known for his effective guerilla tactics. His association with Al Qaeda groups in his region has earned him the designation as an international terrorist by the U.S. state department, and his alleged death would be considered a major victory in the War on Terror.

This is not the first time Pakistani and American officials have declared Mehsud dead, however.

In early 2010, Pakistani and American intelligence thought they had taken him out in a missile strike in the same North Waziristan region, only to have him resurface a few days later.

In response to the latest reports of Mehsud’s death, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Asimullah Meshud denied his leader’s death, stating to the Associated Press that he had not even been in the Waziristan region at the time of the drone strike.

“There is no truth in reports about his death. However, he is a human being and can die anytime. He is a mujahid and we wish him martyrdom,” he said to the AP.

The report of Mehsud’s death coincides with a bomb attack on a Shiite religious procession that killed at least 14, according to the AP.

In fact, sectarian violence has been on the upswing in Pakistan, with the Taliban and other militant groups carrying out hundreds of bombings over the last five years. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died in recent attacks, as the militants continue to campaign for a hard-line Islamist government.

The bombings have become so frequent, that the Pakistani interior minister publicly thanked the Taliban when they upheld a requested moratorium for the holy month of Ashura.

The most recent bombing of the Shiite procession occurred as worshippers were exiting the mosque. The Pakistani Taliban took credit in the past for several anti-Shiite attacks, though no responsibility has been claimed so far for the recent attack. The local law enforcement minister for the Punjab province, where the attack occurred, told Reuters that the bomb area was still being examined for evidence.

While the Pakistani Taliban is notorious for numerous attacks in its own county, the organization has also been tied to several U.S. targets in recent years.

In fact, the Pakistani Taliban trained Mohammad Younis, the Times Square bomber, and has been connected to a suicide bombing in 2009 in which seven C.I.A. agents were killed.

The drone strike against Mehsud, and the recent sectarian attacks, come at a sensitive time for the Pakistani government. The civilian leadership and the military have been increasingly at odds, and rumors of mounting resistance have grown.

The instability of the regime could complicate the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which requires Pakistani cooperation, and the U.S. government will be watching Pakistan carefully to see how these events unfold.

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