What If the Drones Really Did Kill Beitullah Mehsud?

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Thursday, August 06, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I truly hope that CIA drones actually did kill Beitullah Mehsud. As leader of the Pakistani Taliban, he has a massive amount of blood on his hands. But I think my friend Annie Lowery is wrong about this:

If Mehsud is dead (and keep in mind, it’s been falsely reported before), it counts most as a major victory for U.S. proponents of drone strikes. The argument against drone strikes is that they are too bloody, too ineffective, and too divisive among local populations and governments.

What we’ve learned, at painful cost, over years and years and years, is that the issue isn’t the leader of an extremist movement. It’s the network that supports it, and the conditions that allow it to take root among a population. Groups like the Taliban are very good at replacing leaders. It seems like every time the United States knocks off one or other big name extremist, there’s a rush to forget these lessons in a fit of euphoria. And then the movement replaces him, survives, and adapts, and we’re left wondering what happened.

Remember: al-Qaeda in Iraq killed a lot of people after the United States killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006. It was only when Sunni Iraqis turned against AQI and denied it a base of support that the organization — which is still killing people! — saw its capabilities decimated.

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10 Comments

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abujeeyun
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 12:35 am

Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006. That's when the tide began to shift in terms of other sunni groups switching sides. You're wrong that his death had little significance in the broader fight. Mehsud is a far bigger fish than Al-Zarqawi. He is an immensely charismatic, clever and courageous leader. Much of Pakistan views him as a potential alternative to democratic rule. He is the most dynamic leader in the history of the Jihadi wars in southwest Asia (with the possible exception of Ahmed Shah Massoud) and represents a significant threat to all of the governments of the region. Killing him will have more real-world significance than killing bin Laden. Less symbolic significance, of course, but in terms of changing the situation on the ground, far more real significance.

By the way, watch for the jirga meeting tomorrow. There's a chance that reapers will blow it to bits once all the high-ups of the Mehsoud clan gather.


spencerackerman
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 3:02 am

I want to see a real analysis of what AMZ's killing had to do with the fracturing of AQI and the Sunni Awakening. Intuition would suggest it was a contributing factor. But how much did it contribute?

And how sure are you that Beitullah's would have a fracturing impact? Be careful of that Massoud comparison. His compatriots, in his death, actually achieved what Massoud didn't deliver.


Name
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 5:52 am

Even better is to remove the conditions that allow such groups to flourish in the first place. And by “the conditions” I mean poverty and ignorance.


Abdullah
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 8:01 am

Mehsud is/was a person who was increasingly isolated in Pakistan and even in his own Mehsud Tribe. He lost support after people saw his men blasting hotels, mass killing ordinary people and blowing up girls schools. His financial support from abroad and Indian agencies (RAW) is cut after he was encircled in a 200 mile area by security forces.
He is desperately killing any one from his tribe he view as a threat but time is running out for him anyways as he lost critical moral appeal in Pakistan. Swat's recapture also weekend him as well.

We cannot equate him with Tamil Tigers leader Parbhakarun as he had the support of Tamils till his death while Mehsud is using terror to keep himself going in his tribe. Pakistanies will not be surprized to see him dead and that will be a feel good factor at this Independence day at 14th Aug with Judiciary reversing Musharrafs actions.


abujeeyun
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

A long, dispassionate attempt to analyze the importance of AMZ's in the unraveling of AQI would be pretty fruitless. Clearly he was one of the network nodes whose elimination furthered the cause. I would argue that if he hadn't been killed, AQI's unravelling would have been impossible. His killing was of extreme symbolic significance to those who were sitting on the fence. In addition to that, he was clearly very good at organizing and enforcing discipline. So his death weakened the network in practical ways.

What I think is a more eloquent way of phrasing my earlier point is that killing the head of the snake is an important element in the elimination of the network. One single hellfire will never solve the problem in and of itself. But the Hellfire that got Mehsud (allegedly) was, I believe, the single most important Hellfire that's been fired since 9/11.

On the other hand, the Pakistani Taliban is a very different beast than AQI, al Shabab, etc. We will never “eliminate the network”–it's the clan-based network that is the way of life there. BM turned that network into a very effective killing machine that–I believe–was a legitimate threat to the government of Pakistan. He has many willing lieutenants who will try to take his place, but he was VERY good at leadership. There's a good chance that, if handled correctly by the Pakistani government, his death really will be turned into a peace pact with the Mehsud tribe and a veritable end to the Pakistani Taliban as a legitimate threat to Pakistani democracy.

Ironically, if this happens, it makes the U.S. job harder in Afghanistan. If the insurgency ends in Pakistan, the motivation for the Pakistani government to continue to police the border areas will decline dramatically. That ends the hope that the Pakistani army will somehow fix Afghanistan's problem. And the Mehsudi clan will stop fighting against itself and the Pakistani government and put all of their focus on fighting over the border.

Nevertheless, the big prize is Pakistan, not Afghanistan. And a world without BM makes Pakistan as a sovereign democracy significantly safer.

In regards to Abdullah's comments: I agree with you that BM was in a bad way at the time of his alleged death. His support was down and he was getting hurt badly by the drone strikes and the Pakistani air force strikes. But if he had survived and played his cards right, he could have quickly regained his power and then some. His power base on Wednesday was significantly diminished. But he still represented a tremendous threat while still alive.


spencerackerman
Comment posted August 7, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

I'm going to make this comment its own post, as it's excellent.


He’s The Terrorist Version of Abe Vigoda « Around The Sphere
Pingback posted August 8, 2009 @ 11:16 am

[...] posts from Spencer Ackerman, here, here and here. Ackerman: It’s not that Mehsud is an unimportant figure, or that movements [...]


jonathan
Comment posted August 11, 2009 @ 10:52 am

IF beitullah mehsud is dead that would be without doubt a severe blow to the taliban considering his radicalism and extremism.that shouln't mean complaceny in the part of usa because in all earnest that would not be the end.


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