Taliban denies leader is dead

Commanders dismiss Pakistani TV reports that Hakimullah Mehsud died in drone attack.

Hakimullah Mehsud - Pakistani Taliban leader
Hakimullah Mehsud, left, was previously reported killed on January 14 [File: EPA]

The AFP news agency reported that a senior Taliban spokesman had said that Mehsud was “alive and safe”.

“The purpose of stories regarding his death is to create differences among Taliban ranks, but such people will never succeed,” Azam Tariq was quoted as saying.

“People who are saying that Hakimullah has died should provide proof of it – we have already proved that he is alive and we have provided two audio tapes of him to all the media.”

Drone attacks

There was previously speculation that the Pakistani Taliban leader had been killed on January 14, but within days two audio tapes purporting to be recorded by Mehsud were released dismissing the claims.

Taliban spokesmen admitted that Mehsud had been in the Shaktoi area where the suspected US drones launched the attack, but said he left about an hour beforehand.

It was not clear if the reports on Pakistani television were suggesting that Mehsud had died from injuries sustained in the January 14 raid or whether he had been hit in a subsequent attack.

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At least 10 other Taliban fighters reportedly died in the January 14 attack.

The Pakistani military said that it was investigating the claims on Saturday.

“So far, we haven’t received any confirmation from our sources,” General Athar Abbas, the Pakistani military spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

However, he said that the military had succeeded in severely reducing the Tehrik-e-Taliban’s ability to operate.

“We have kicked them out of their base in South Waziristan and there is a complete disconnect from the various sections of this organisation.

“They have been demoralised, partly dismantled, partly defeated, and in great disarray, so this a great success.”

Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, died last August but it took the Taliban a number of weeks to admit that he had been hit in the missile strike which killed him.

Structure at risk

Al Jazeera’s Hyder said that if Hakimullah Mehsud’s death was confirmed, it would be likely to damage the organisational structure of the Tehrik-e-Taliban.

“Indeed it will be a very difficult thing for them to recover if they were to lose two so important leaders in quick succession,” he said.

“The Americans have intensified the drone attacks, particularly after the attack … on the CIA operatives in Khost.”

Mehsud appeared in a video left by the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives in the attack across the border in Afghanistan on December 30.

Talat Massood, a military analyst and former Pakistani general, told Al Jazeera that the Tehrik-e-Taliban were under pressure from the Pakistani army.

“There are immense pressures on them and Pakistan has been fairly successful in regaining the territory that was held by them,” he said.

“They were on the run, they were on the defensive and if their leadership has been eliminated, I think that the Pakistani military and other forces fighting them have a clear advantage.   

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies