Pakistani Taliban Leader Believed Dead In U.S. Drone Strike

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban is reported to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike. Hakimullah Mehsud's group is believed responsible for attacks across Pakistan. He is also implicated in the attack that killed seven CIA employees at a CIA base in Afghanistan in late 2009. Mehsud has been reported to have been killed before, but sources are confident this time.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The leader of the Pakistan's Taliban is reported to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike. Hakimullah Mehsud has been a target before and past reports of his death have proved false. If he is dead - and a large number of reports suggest that he is - it would be an important development because Mehsud had a critical role inside Pakistan. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been reporting on this story and joins us now. And, Tom, first, what more can you tell us about Hakimullah Mehsud?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Robert, as you said, he's the leader of Pakistani Taliban, and that group is basically focused on attacks inside Pakistan. And his organization has been targeted by the U.S. drone campaign. U.S. is actually working in tandem with Pakistani intelligence officials on going after this particular group.

SIEGEL: But there have been reports in the past that he had been killed, obviously reports that didn't bear out. Why do officials seem so confident that this attack did get him?

BOWMAN: Well, they're saying it was a drone strike in North Waziristan, in the Miran Shah area, and that's in the Pakistani tribal area just across the border from Afghanistan. And we understand from reports both in the United States and in Pakistan that there were multiple strikes from drones. Intelligence sources told NPR in Pakistan that Mehsud had come to attend a meeting at a mosque. And as soon as he reached his home, he was hit by the drone strike. And we're told his uncle was killed as well.

Now, the reason they're confident is that his own Taliban organization said in a statement that he'd be buried tomorrow. Usually, if something like this didn't happen, the Taliban would say, well, he's alive and well and there were no truth to the reports that he'd been killed. And besides this, there were numerous reports out of Pakistan's media and officials in Pakistan that he had indeed been killed in the drone strike.

SIEGEL: And there was a $5 million bounty on Mehsud's head. Why was he such a high priority for the U.S.?

BOWMAN: Well, as I said, many of the attacks his group launched took place in Pakistan. And in those attacks, many civilians and Pakistani security officials were killed. But there was one attack in particular that took place in Afghanistan, just across the border. This is 2009 and seven CIA officials and security personnel were killed in a brazen suicide attack at a CIA outpost in Khost, again, just across the border.

And those who've seen the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" may remember this scene. It's a gripping scene in which CIA personnel are talking to a person that came in. They were going to interrogate him. And they didn't check him sufficiently enough and he was wearing a bomb, detonated himself and killed some CIA officials.

SIEGEL: And Mehsud is linked to that plot.

BOWMAN: Exactly. Mehsud was linked to that plot, so, obviously, he was very high on the CIA's list.

SIEGEL: Now, as you said, this was apparently a drone strike that targeted Mehsud. And I assume we'll be hearing that this shows the effectiveness of drone strikes. But it's a very controversial policy, the use of U.S. drones

BOWMAN: Absolutely. Just this week, two human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, came out with a report citing civilian deaths from drones, hundreds if not thousands killed in this U.S. campaign. And just this week, several family members of drone victims were on Capitol Hill as well. Of course, President Obama has promised to limit drone strikes. But I think, clearly, if they have someone in their sights like this, like Hakimullah Mehsud, they're going to continue to use those drone strikes.

SIEGEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Robert.

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