Sunday, August 9, 2009

Early Assessment of the Elimination of Taliban Commander Mehsud

Via CT Blog (by Dr Walid Phares) -

As reports are confirming the elimination of Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, including Pakistani sources to al Jazeera, a growing debate is widening in the international media about the "value" of that event. Some analyses are using terms such as "turning point," while other are describing it as "lethal hit against Pakistan's Taliban." Evidently, authorities in Pakistan and the United States are logically rejoicing for the fact that a tough foe is gone. Intelligence estimates will soon tell how important what that successful drone and what would the field consequences be in the next weeks, months and maybe a year or two.

But it is important that the expert community help the public and decision makers in making a fair and accurate assessment of the event with the correct understanding of the value of the tactics employed on the Pakistan's front with the Taliban; but also one should suggest that no excesses should be projected in over estimating the impact on the "war." As the discussion is ongoing in the media and inside Government circles, following are eight points of assessment to be considered:

1. Tactically, the elimination of Baitullah Mehsud, as the direct commander of the Taliban terror networks is a real field victory for Pakistan's Government and, in perspective, a payback for the assassination of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Moreover, the vanishing of Mehsud can create conditions for progress of Pakistan's forces in south Waziristan, only for a short period of time and if Islamabad can mobilize enough popular support for the next stage of engagement against the Taliban.

2. It is also a victory to the global US intelligence and an indicator to current and future successful strikes via the technology employed by American deployment out of Afghanistan. It adds some deterrence to NATO presence in the region, but again, within limitations.

3. It will put some pressure on the Taliban and also on al Qaeda inside Pakistan, and psychological pressure on the Taliban inside Afghanistan

4. It could ease some past tensions between US and Pakistan military authorities regarding the use of missiles and drone attacks against Taliban, across the borders; but it will not transform the current discrete cooperation into a NATO like open collaboration.

However, on the other hand

a. We know almost for sure that the Taliban will select a new leader who will replace Mehsud. They may well select or add later a member of his own clan, family or entourage. The assessment will be made by the "war room" of the Jihadists in the region. In short, undoubtedly the Taliban campaign will continue.

b. Also one has to be ready that Taliban Pakistan, or their allies inside the country (and they have many) may try to assassinate important figures inside Pakistan, in retaliation.

d. Hence the elimination of Baitullah Mehsud is a tactical turning point that could be used to provoke more crumbling, but the window is very short.

e. Jihadi media and some al Jazeera commentators say his elimination will affect but not crumble the Taliban.


Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.

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