Why the Drone Killing of a Taliban Leader Matters

It may be the CIA's revenge

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Taliban sources have confirmed that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud died as a result of a U.S. drone strike. Rumors of Mehsud's death have raged since the attack took place over a month ago. The significance of his death is an open question, with everything from the controversial U.S. drone program to the Taliban's future at stake.

  • Big Success For Drones The Los Angeles Times's Alex Rodriguez writes of the U.S. drone program, "The death of Mahsud, engineer of a devastating series of suicide attacks and raids on markets, mosques and security installations across Pakistan in the latter half of 2009, gives the U.S. another major victory in its ongoing campaign of drone missile strikes against top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders."
  • CIA Gets Revenge  Mahawish Rezvi is among the many to link the strike to Mehsud's connection with the CIA suicide bomber. "Hakimullah Mehsud may have issued his own death warrant earlier this month when he appeared on an Al-Jazeera video sitting beside Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi. Balawi is believed to be the person behind attacks on the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. Shortly before the release of this video, he died while carrying out a suicide bombing, killing eight people."
  • Taliban Succession Line Foreign Policy's Katherine Tiedemann surveys the field. "There are several contenders in the running to be Hakimullah's successor: Maulvi Noor Jamal, also known as Toofan, a commander from Kurram and Orakzai who allegedly "kills humans like one will kill chickens;" Qari Hussain, who runs the group's suicide bombing training program but also has been rumored killed; Wali ur-Rehman, the TTP's chief military strategist and leader in South Waziristan; and a handful of other Mehsud commanders."
  • Successor Could Prove Deadlier  World Politics Review blogger Judah Grunstein worries, "Mehsud illustrates one of the dangers of a CT strategy based on organizational decapitation -- namely, that the No. 2 guy waiting in the wings might actually prove to be more dangerous than the guy whose charred boots he filled."
  • Hakimullah Was the Taliban Pirate Middle East blogger Vikash Yadav profiles the "brash and ruthless" Taliban leader with remarkable precision. "Although he was most likely illiterate, the young and handsome (in a swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow-ish sort of way) Mehsud" loved to give interviews to local press. "The brash commander particularly enjoyed showing off the Humvee he had captured from NATO forces by raiding their supply lines." But he "was also ruthless. He claimed to have had several men beheaded for spying on the Taliban. He instituted a strict interpretation of sharia' and enforced a ban on the movement of women outside of their homes." Ultimately, "he was little more than an illiterate, brutal, and narcissistic gangster."
  • But Don't Overstate Significance Time's Joe Klein shrugs, "even if there is an extended power struggle and the movement has been seriously weakened by a combination of drone strikes and Pakistani Army operations in South Waziristan, that doesn't mean an end to Taliban terror attacks. They will continue. The best case scenario is that the possibility of the Taliban" losing its ability to disrupt Pakistan.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.