Top Taliban commander killed in US drone strike

Hakimullah Mehsud was one of the most senior militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Image YouTube).

The leader of the Pakistan Taliban has been killed in a US drone strike, Taliban and multiple security sources have confirmed

Hakimullah Mehsud was one of the most senior militants in Pakistan and his death is expected to have significant ramifications for the Taliban and nascent peace talks with the government in Islamabad.

The drone strike that is reported to have killed the military leader is only the second strike to have hit the tribal areas of Pakistan in 32 days. The previous strike on October 31 was the only drone attack in Pakistan last month.

The day before the strike that killed Hakimullah, Pakistan’s Prime Minister said his government had already started long-heralded talks with the militants, something the Taliban’s official spokesman denied. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Islamabad denounced it as an attempt by the US to sabotage the negotiations.

The Pakistan Taliban, or TTP has been hit hard by CIA drone strikes this year. According to the Bureau data drone strikes have reportedly killed at least 103 people in 2013. Among them the Bureau has recorded the names of 30 reportedly Taliban-linked militants including Wali Ur Rehman, the TTP’s deputy leader.

Rehman, who was killed at the beginning of the year, was seen as a moderating influence, holding groups together under the umbrella of the TTP. His death was a considerable set back for the militant organisation.

Hakimullah’s replacement is reportedly his deputy, Khan Said Sanja (aka Khalid), a fighter battle-hardened in Afghanistan. Pakistan newspaper Dawn reported he was elected by a majority of the TTP’s ruling council. However the paper’s sources said his election was not confirmed by some of the splinter groups in the organisation.

Hakimullah was born in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency and was thought to be in his mid-30s. He took a senior role in the Pakistan Taliban, or TTP, when it formed as a coalition of a number of groups in 2007. And he became leader in August 2009 when his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike. The TTP launched a murderous bombing campaign in the aftermath of Baitullah’s killing. The group targeted the military, police and civilians.

hakimullah mehsud - rewards for justice
Rewards for Justice

Hakimullah became a wanted man after he was linked with the December 30 2009 suicide bombing attack on a US base in Khost, Afghanistan. The attack on Camp Chapman killed seven CIA spies, one of the largest losses sustained by the agency. He also was involved in a failed car bombing in New York in May 2010. The US had put a $5m (£3.1m) price on his head.

Though compelling, reports of Hakimullah’s death need to be treated with some caution. He has been reported to have been killed by drones on at least three occasions in the past – twice in January 2010, and once in January 2012. But now it has been reported that Taliban sources said they buried him the morning after the latest strike.

The exact details of the strike that is reported to have killed him are unclear. There are varying reports of what the strike hit including a car and a house. Another report suggests he was hit after leaving a mosque. One report said there were two strikes, the first hit a house and wounded him. The second caught him as his comrades tried to move him by road to a hospital. He may have been targeted the previous day. A well respected Pakistani journalist reported the US narrowly missed its target in a drone strike the day before. It hit a few miles from where Hakimullah was killed.

His bodyguard Tariq Mehsud and driver Abdullah Mehsud were reported to also be among the dead. They were ‘two of his closest people’ a Pakistani security source said. There were between five and 25 killed in the attack.

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