Is Hakimullah Mehsud Alive?

Pakistani intelligence officials are reportedly claiming that an American drone attack failed to kill Hakimullah Mehsud after all. As Declassified previously reported here and here, the Pakistani Taliban commander, who costarred in the "martyrdom video" of a Jordanian double agent who killed seven Americans and a Jordanian intelligence officer at a secret CIA base in Afghanistan in December, was thought to have been in the sights of a missile fired by a Predator drone this January. In subsequent weeks, Mehsud, regarded by counterterrorism experts as something of a media hound, did not appear in any new video or audio messages, and U.S. officials expressed growing confidence that he indeed was dead. Nevertheless, Declassified's sources continued to warn that their confidence in his demise was less than absolute.

Now unnamed Pakistani operatives are being quoted as claiming that Mehsud was only wounded. "He is alive ... He had some wounds but he is basically OK," the Guardian quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as saying. The BBC reported that it had received a video of Mehsu, but that it could not determine when the footage was shot.

A U.S. official, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, tells Declassified that U.S. agencies are checking out those reports to find out whether Pakistani officials really are saying such things, and whether there is evidence to support those claims. U.S. agencies have always made it clear to policymakers that there's no proof that the Pakistani Taliban leader was killed, according to another U.S. official familiar with intelligence reporting. But a third official adds that U.S. agencies haven't given policymakers any fresh intelligence recently that he isn't dead.

Still, given Mehsud's reputed love of the spotlight, U.S. experts think he's probably dead until they see unimpeachable evidence to the contrary. "If Hakimullah really is alive, let him prove it," says a U.S. counterterrorism official. "He never had a problem going before the cameras. But for the past few months, he's nowhere to be seen. His group isn't one that traditionally led from the cave in silence. His absence is the Taliban's problem, not ours. It's already been shown that he can be hit. As [Hakimullah's predecessor as Pakistani Taliban chief] Baitullah Mehsud learned to his peril, if you're a terrorist figure in that part of the world, you have to be smart … and lucky."

Baitullah Mehsud (no relation to Hakimullah), widely blamed for masterminding the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was reportedly killed in a CIA drone strike last August. His successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, earned the deep enmity of the CIA when he was shown sitting at the right hand of Jordanian doctor Humam Khalil Abu Mulala al-Balawi in a "martyrdom video" that was released after Balawi carried out a suicide bombing at a CIA outpost in Khost on Dec. 30.