Consider this a good news/bad news update on Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban movement that united warring factions and gave Islamabad more than it could handle with its Islamist insurgency. The BBC got confirmation from two unlikely sources, both of whom hoped to wrest Mehsud’s authority from the other. However, the bad news is that feud has apparently been settled:
The commanders, Zulfiqar Mehsud (Hakimullah) and Waliur Rehman, confirmed that he had been killed in a US missile strike earlier this month.
Hakimullah Mehsud, who is believed to be in his late 20s, has been appointed as the new Taliban chief. Waliur Rehman said that he had his support.
Yesterday, McClatchy reported on the infighting caused between Hakimullah Mehsud, the slain leader’s son, and and Waliur Rehman, who had the support of the Waziristan factions. That set up a promising civil war within the Taliban as the two factions slugged it out for control. Unfortunately, the two appear to have settled their differences, at least for the moment, although any continuing adversity could fracture the group along the same lines. Part of the animosity between the factions came from accusations arising from the US being able to target Mehsud so effectively, and if the attacks continue with the same accuracy, those accusations will only escalate.
The two terrorists claim that confirmation came this late because Mehsud initially survived the attack. Both men say that Baitullah died only on Sunday, after succumbing to the injuries suffered in the attack. If true, that could account for the confusing stories told by the Taliban, but it seems more likely a cover story. Maybe the Sunday death is part of a complicated deal for the two former rivals to ally, in order to establish a Taliban-approved chronology of events that will make it easier for all factions to get along.
In any event, the death of Mehsud has been confirmed, giving the US a big win in a battle and confirming the effectiveness of its tactics and intel in the area. They knew exactly who they hit, and where — and the Taliban will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how and why.