U.S. Officials: Still No Confirmation Notorious Pakistani Taliban Leader Is Dead

Has the United States succeeded in killing Pakistan's brutal Taliban leader or not? Numerous press accounts suggest that Hakimullah Mehsud─a top U.S. target─likely died in a bombing attack some time in January. But two U.S. national-security officials tell Declassified that they have no confirmation that he is in fact dead.

Citing various authorities, the latest news reports offer conflicting accounts of Hakimullah's possible demise. The New York Times version alleges he may have died as a result of injuries sustained during a missile strike on Jan. 14. The Guardian alleges he was blown up in a missile strike on either Jan. 13 or 17. As we noted earlier, reports of his death in mid-January proved difficult to confirm. The latest wave was set off by a Pakistani state television report yesterday.

The administration would certainly be eager to announce that Hakimullah is no more. He allegedly took over leadership of Pakistan-based Taliban forces after his fellow tribesman, Baitullah Mehsud (no relation) was reportedly killed a missile strike last August. (Baitullah was suspected of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.) Hakimullah, whose fighters are believed to operate on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, has been a priority target for both Pakistani and U.S. forces.

The effort to track down and kill Hakimullah intensified after he appeared in a "martyrdom" video seated next to Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor turned suicide bomber who killed himself and eight others inside a secret CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, on Dec. 30. In response, the CIA began launching drone missile attacks every two or three days on targets in Pakistani tribal regions, where Hakimullah was believed to be hiding.

If Hakimullah is still alive, he will likely find some way to prove it soon─if only to keep his troops in line and to prevent another terrorist from stepping up to take his place. "When rumors arise that a particular figure has been killed or wounded, it's to some extent incumbent upon him to prove he's still in command," says one national-security official who asked for anonymity for the usual reasons. "The more time passes without word from the primary source, the deeper the rumor of his death or incapacitation becomes."

U.S. Officials: Still No Confirmation Notorious Pakistani Taliban Leader Is Dead | World