The death of Baitullah Mehsud appears to have done even more damage to the Taliban terrorist network in Pakistan than first thought. Without their charismatic leader to unite them, the Taliban has begun to splinter across ideological and tribal lines, and the council Mehsud founded is dissolving into power plays and parochial interests. The infighting might prove more deadly to the network than the Pakistan Army:
Pakistan’s extremist Taliban movement is badly divided over who should be its new leader, and analysts and local tribesmen say the al Qaida-linked group may be in danger of crumbling.
A wave of defections, surrenders, arrests and bloody infighting has severely weakened the movement since its founder, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed Aug. 5 in a U.S. missile strike. The announcement this weekend that Hakimullah Mehsud, a 28-year-old with a reputation as a hothead, would succeed him is likely to further widen the split. …
Pakistan authorities arrested the Taliban’s high-profile spokesman, Maulvi Umer, in the tribal areas, while a key interlocutor between the Taliban and al Qaida, commander Saifullah, was also detained at a house in Islamabad where he was receiving medical treatment.
Separately, 60 Taliban fighters gave themselves up in the Swat valley in Pakistan’s northwest. Many Taliban in Waziristan have defected since Baitullah Mehsud’s death.
In a further sign of internal discord, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed Sunday that militants had killed Baitullah Mehsud’s in-laws, including his father-in-law, on suspicion of giving away his location. The former Taliban leader had been staying at his father-in-law’s house in Waziristan when he was killed by a missile fired from a U.S. drone.
Any time one side can decapitate the leadership of the other, recriminations and feuds usually follow in its wake. That would be especially true for a movement based on tribal politics like the Taliban. Mehsud managed to keep a lid on rivalries and petty jealousies, presumably on the strength of his personality and success. But Mehsud was nothing more than a warlord at best, and when warlords die before they prepare their succession, infighting inevitably results among the remaining players.
The two heirs apparent are Haikmullah Mehsud, Baitullah’s hot-headed son, and Waliur Rehman, a more level-headed lieutenant of Mehsud and more connected to the Waziristan base for the Taliban. Mehsud claimed the top spot in Orakzai, well away from Waziristan, which indicates his weakness in that area, according to McClatchy reporter Saeed Shah. The Waziris want Rehman, whom they claim was Baitullah Mehsud’s favorite before his death.
Shah notes that the infighting could ratchet up the danger for Pakistan, as both factions try to prove their mala fides by launching a rash of attacks, especially the hot-headed younger Mehsud. However, there is also opportunity, as both sides fight with each other, and create more splintering and factions in the Taliban. Shah doesn’t mention that the various factions may try to gain advantage by supplying Islamabad with intel to get the Pakistani Army and the US to do their dirty work in this regard. That is an old, old story in insurgencies and factionalization that goes back centuries if not millenia in all parts of the world. While the danger for Pakistanis could certainly rise significantly, the opportunities for further destruction of the Taliban rise much higher.
Meanwhile, Michael Yon gives us a front-line report from Afghanistan:
The mission was an obvious success. It was surprising that we endured no fatalities or serious injuries. The mission was well-executed and since many of the soldiers have substantial combat experience from Iraq and Afghanistan, major dramas were averted. Murphy had smiled upon us. The only injury to my knowledge was the soldier who fell off the ladder. Soldiers who had previously fought on Pharmacy Road said we had sustained about twenty fatalities and injuries in that general area. And though at least one IED has been placed on the road since last week, C Coy and the ANA are now regularly patrolling and the freedom of movement has resumed.
This is a brutal fight. Since that mission, eight more British soldiers and two interpreters have been killed in this area. That’s ten KIA plus the wounded. The soldiers keep going.
Be sure to read it all, and to hit Michael’s tip jar when you get the chance.