The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was reportedly killed by a US drone strike on Friday, according to security and Taliban sources. Hakimullah Mehsud’s death was a blow to the already-fragmented movement.
Mehsud was one of the most wanted and feared men in Pakistan and had a $5 million bounty on his head, courtesy of the United States. He was believed to have been behind a suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square, and several other brazen assaults in Pakistan.
CBS News notes that Mehsud was thought to have been killed in 2010, but he later resurfaced. However, this time he wasn’t so lucky. A senior US intelligence official confirmed the Pakistani Taliban leader’s death, as did two Pakistani intelligence officials.
Two Taliban leaders reported seeing his mangled body after the strike, and Reuters reports that a senior Taliban commander commented, “We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack.”
Should the reports be true, Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, explained that Hakimullah Mehsud’s death “would be a serious loss” for the Pakistani Taliban. It could also stop any potential peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won in May by promising to bring peace to Pakistan.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House official, explained that Pakistan already informed the US and Britain that peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban were imminent. He added, “So the drone strike is very awkward and difficult for Sharif. Conspiracy theories in Pakistan will assume he agrees to the strike even as he proposed peace talks with Mehsud.”
Mehsud wasn’t the only casualty of the reported US drone strike. A senior Pakistani government official explained that two of his bodyguards died as well. The group’s deputy leader was killed in a drone strike earlier this year.