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Pakistani Taliban search for new leader

Aug. 7, 2009 at 3:28 PM

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- Taliban leaders in Pakistan met to discuss a new boss as deputy insurgent officials confirmed leader Baitullah Mehsud died in a Wednesday airstrike.

Military airstrikes believed to be from U.S. aerial drones struck a village in South Waziristan on Wednesday, killing a wife of Taliban leader Mehsud along with his bodyguards and several brothers.

On Friday, Faqir Mohammed, deputy chief for the Pakistani Taliban, confirmed Mehsud was killed during the Wednesday airstrike.

Various media reports on the strike relayed eyewitness accounts of the burial of Mehsud that indicated his body was "half-destroyed" during the operation.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say they believed Mehsud was killed in the Wednesday attacks but were awaiting official confirmation on the ground before verifying the reports.

The U.S. military said it "almost" killed Mehsud in a similar operation in June.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban officials have met to discuss a successor for Mehsud, the online Long War Journal reports.

The Journal notes that possible successors include several of his cousins. Hakeemullah Mehsud led operations against NATO convoys in Peshawar, while Qari Hussain Mehsud is allegedly behind the training of children for use as suicide bombers.

Baitullah Mehsud had pledged his support to al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. He is also linked to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Without physical evidence, U.S. counterintelligence officials said verification of the death is officially unconfirmed. While the death is a setback for the Pakistani Taliban, it is unlikely to be a major blow for the group.

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