Another top Pakistan Taliban leader killed in airstrike?

Pakistani officials said Saturday that Maulvi Faqir Mohamed, a top Pakistan Taliban leader, was likely killed in an airstrike Friday in northwestern Pakistan along with other Taliban leaders.

Anwarullah Khan/AP
Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, believed to be a top Pakistan Taliban leader, is believed to be among a number of insurgents killed Friday, at a sprawling compound in the northwest Mohmand tribal region of Pakistan.

A top Pakistan Taliban leader was likely killed in an airstrike Friday in northwestern Pakistan along with other Taliban leaders, Pakistani officials said Saturday, continuing Pakistan’s recent steady onslaught against the leadership of the militant group.

Scores of Pakistani Taliban leaders have been killed in airstrikes over recent months, including two leaders of the entire organization, and top Afghan leaders were recently arrested.The repeated success in targeting Taliban leaders may be making it more difficult for the group to direct movements from the top as it struggles to replace its leadership.

Maulvi Faqir Mohamed was likely killed in an airstrike Friday that hit a large group of militants meeting in northwestern Pakistan, reports the Associated Press. As many as two dozen militants may have been at the gathering, including Afghan Taliban commander Qari Ziaur Rehman. Officials say both leaders are probably dead, though their bodies have not been identified. Pakistani’s interior minister did confirm that Fateh Mohammed, Taliban commander in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, was killed by the airstrike, which came after a “real-time” intelligence tip that the militants were conducting a meeting.

Mr. Mohamed, killed in the Mohmand tribal agency, was the leader of the Taliban in neighboring Bajaur agency but reportedly fled last week amid an offensive by Pakistan’s army (click here for a map of the region from the BBC). Reuters reports that the Pakistani Army said last week it had cleared Bajaur of militants after two years of fighting. It is the second time in a year Pakistan has made that claim.

Mohamed was also deputy leader of the Taliban in Pakistan and was connected to Al Qaida. The Christian Science Monitor reported that Mohamed briefly took over leadership of the Taliban after leader Baitullah Mehsud’s death in a US airstrike in August.

The news of his likely death is hailed as a victory for Pakistan and the US, with many analysts framing it as a new blow for the Taliban. But the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban has been killed before without reducing the organization’s ability to unleash suicide bombings and attacks. After Mehsud’s death in August, Hakimullah Mehsud rose to fill his place, and directed a campaign of deadly suicide bombings in Pakistan. He was reportedly killed by an airstrike in January, and it has been unclear if anyone had since taken over leadership of the organization. It may be that the Taliban is now finding it harder to fill the top spot, with many prospects killed and at least one declining the position, The Washington Post reports.

Analysts said Mohammed's death, coming amid stepped-up military operations and U.S. drone strikes, would help reduce the Pakistani Taliban to something more like the patchwork of local insurgencies that it was before it grew into a lethal umbrella group. Mohammed had been considered a candidate to lead the national organization.

"They're shellshocked," Aftab Khan Sherpao, a former Pakistani interior minister, said of the Taliban. "Pakistan is on the front foot right now."

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