Hakimullah Mehsud evades US drones,
again By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The al-Qaeda-linked
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP's) most wanted
fugitive, Hakimullah Mehsud, has apparently
survived an American drone attack in the North
Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan's Federally
Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On January
15, international media and several Pakistani
newspapers and news channels reported that
Hakimullah had been killed in a January 12 attack,
citing intercepted radio communications between
Pakistani Taliban militants.
strongly refuted these reports, saying Hakimullah
was not in the area. Pakistani intelligence
circles were also unsure of Hakimullah's death,
pointing to the absence of evidence and the fact
that he's been pronounced dead three times since
he took charge in August, 2009. Hakimullah's
tenure started weeks after
the death of his
predecessor and the founder of the TTP, Baitullah
Mehsud, in a US drone strike.
"There is no
truth in the reports about Hakimullah's death,
although he is a human being and can die any time.
He is a mujahideen and we wish him martyrdom.
Jihad is not linked with Hakimullah alone and
wouldn't stop even if he is killed. We will
continue jihad whether Hakimullah Mehsud is alive
or dead. There are so many lions in this jungle
and one lion would replace another to continue
this noble mission," said TTP spokesman Ihsanullah
Ihsan on January 15.
media kept insisting, now citing intelligence
sources in Pakistan and the United States, that
Hakimullah had been killed in the strike, which
took place in the Dattakhel area, around 50
kilometers west of Miramshah, the administrative
headquarters of North Waziristan agency.
Pakistani security officials were said to
have intercepted conversations between Taliban
militants in the tribal areas discussing
Hakimullah's possible demise in the January 12
attack, when two missiles were fired by the
Predator hitting a double cabin pick-up vehicle
and a car near Dogga village in Dattakhel Tehsil.
The pick-up immediately caught fire,
killing four men on the spot. Their badly
mutilated bodies were pulled out of the vehicle
and buried shortly afterwards. One more person was
killed in the car, which was targeted by another
drone. His body was mutilated beyond recognition.
There was no way to ascertain the identity of the
slain people whose vehicles were targeted by the
drones. However, it was believed that one of those
killed was Hakimullah.
The Predator attack
came just two days after a strike that ended an
undeclared, 55-day halt in the US drone campaign
prompted by the diplomatic fallout from the
November 26 killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a
North Atlantic Treaty Organization strike on the
transpires that while up to nine Turkmeni
militants died in the January 12 strike, a senior
al-Qaeda-linked figure was killed in the January
10 attack: Aslam Awan, alias Abdullah Khorasani,
has been identified as a close associate of the
external operations chief of al-Qaeda, the branch
tasked with strikes on the United States, Europe
and areas outside of South Asia.
media, citing US intelligence sources, claim Aslam
Awan was a Pakistani national who hailed from
Abbottabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province, where
al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was found and
killed last May by US forces.
alias Abdullah Khorasani was a significant figure
in what US officials described as the remaining
core leadership of al-Qaeda based in Pakistan's
tribal areas. Aslam Awan's boss, the external
operations chief, has not been named, although he
is reportedly known by the American Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA).
previous chiefs of external operations for
al-Qaeda have been caught or killed in US drone
attacks or counter-terrorism operations, the most
notorious being Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged
mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on
Khalid Sheikh was captured from
Pakistan's garrison town of Rawalpindi in March
2003 and is still being held by US authorities in
the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
External operations chiefs of al-Qaeda have proved
more vulnerable to capture or death than the
terror group's most senior leaders, likely because
their role involves interacting with militants in
According to a January 22 news
report by Reuters, the killing of Aslam Awan
signaled that the Pakistan-US intelligence
partnership was intact despite political tensions
between the countries.
"The January 10,
2012 strike - and its follow-up two days later [on
January 12] - were joint operations which were
carried out by making use of Pakistani spotters on
the ground and demonstrated a level of
coordination that both sides have sought to
downplay since tensions first erupted in January
2011 with the killing of two Pakistanis by a CIA
contractor in Lahore," wrote Reuters, quoting an
unnamed Pakistani security source based in the
Analysts believe the rising
number of successful US drone attacks on top
al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in recent months has
forced Hakimullah underground.
was first declared a most-wanted fugitive by the
US Federal Bureau of Investigation after he was
blamed for a 2009 suicide attack on a CIA base in
Afghanistan that killed six senior CIA officials.
In May 2010, Hakimullah also claimed credit for a
foiled bombing in New York's Times Square that
month, and promised further attacks in the United
Giving broad hints that Hakimullah
is still alive, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman
Malik has said Pakistan needs DNA evidence or
confirmation from his own sources to verify if the
TTP chief is alive or dead. He had earlier
signaled that he believed the latter.
Sailab Mehsud, a Pakistani journalist from
South Waziristan, says the majority of the people
killed in the January 12 drone attack were
Turkmeni and that Hakimullah was not among them.
The reports of Hakimullah's death come
almost exactly two years since international media
last issued similar reports. On January 14, 2010,
media said he had died in a US drone attack on
compound in the Shaktoi area of North Waziristan.
The TTP released an audiotape a few days
later confirming Hakimullah was alive, but rumors
persisted until May, when Hakimullah was seen in
the February 28, 2011, execution video of former
Inter-Services Intelligence official Colonel
Sultan Ameer Tarar, better known as Colonel Imam.
Although Hakimullah seems to have survived
yet another US drone attack, he remains a prime
target of the CIA-run drone campaign. The
successful strike on Aslam Awan suggests that
military intelligence continues to flow between
Islamabad and Washington, and Hakimullah will need
to keep a low profile to cheat death a fourth
Amir Mir is a senior
Pakistani journalist and the author of several
books on the subject of militant Islam and
terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder
trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.
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