Pakistan puts Taliban leader in crosshairs
As the Army begins attacking South Waziristan, it has targeted hideouts of Baitullah Mehsud. Killing or even dislodging the militant chief could deal a severe blow to the movement, analysts say.
As Pakistan's military wraps up its offensive against the Taliban in Swat Valley, it's turning attention to the tribal area of South Waziristan – and homing in on Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is based there.Skip to next paragraph
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Several Pakistani security analysts say that killing or capturing the young, secretive man – who is becoming an iconic figure for his role in major terror attacks in Pakistan since 2004 – could deal a severe blow to the aspirations of militants throughout the country.
"He is the center of gravity in the war on terror.... If you could take out the leadership, it would be a great force multiplier for Pakistan," says Mahmood Shah, a security analyst and former security chief of Pakistan's tribal areas.
In addition to the number of attacks Mr. Mehsud has been accused of masterminding, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he holds nearly legendary status among militants, says Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief of Dawn, a leading English-language daily. "For another individual to [step in and] gain that stature would take four to five years," he says.
At the same time, experts caution that despite Mehsud's significant stature, the government cannot simply eliminate Mehsud to cripple the Taliban. It would have to kill or capture the entire Pakistani Taliban leadership, says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.
Since the military confirmed last Tuesday that it would launch an offensive into South Waziristan – one of seven tribal areas bordering Afghanistan – it has deployed troops to strategic positions and bombed and shelled suspected militant targets. Air Force jets have attacked the town of Makeen – known widely to be a hideout of the Taliban leader.
Mysterious figure, ruthless operator
Mehsud was formally chosen to lead the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella organization created by 40 regional militant chiefs, at its inception in December 2007. The position made him titular commander of some 20,000 fighters, many of them part of his Mehsud clan, which is based in South Waziristan.