ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The Pakistani Taliban confirmed Tuesday that their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, died from injuries suffered in a U.S. drone missile strike last month, an attack that forces the insurgency to find a new leader for the second time in six months.
The death of Mehsud, 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-Qaida leaders.
A drone strike last August killed Mehsud’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud. Missiles fired by drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border have also killed 15 senior al-Qaida commanders since 2004.
“Obviously, it’s a great setback for them in terms of morale and organizational problems,” said Talat Masood, a security analyst and retired Pakistani general.
The missile strike that killed Mehsud came amid a sharp rise in U.S. drone activity in the tribal areas following the Dec. 30 suicide bombing of a secret base in Khowst, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA workers. Since that attack, at least a dozen drone strikes in northwest Pakistan have taken place, killing at least 100 people.
The Taliban has not named Hakimullah Mehsud’s successor. However, the likeliest candidate appears to be Noor Jamal, the Taliban’s commander in the Orakzai and neighboring Kurram tribal regions.