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August 10, 2009

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Islamabad convinced Taliban's head dead

PAKISTANI authorities are increasingly convinced that the notorious head of the country's Taliban movement was killed in a CIA missile strike, the military said yesterday, as reports emerged of an apparently bloody battle for his succession.

Claims and counterclaims about whether Baitullah Mehsud is alive or dead have swirled since last Wednesday's drone strike on his father-in-law's house in Pakistan's rugged, lawless tribal belt.

Government officials, as well as some Taliban commanders, have said all indicators point to him being dead, but other Taliban commanders have vehemently denied that.

Further muddying the waters, there were conflicting reports that a major fight had broken out between rival Taliban factions during a meeting, or shura, to select a replacement for Mehsud, and that one or two of the most likely contenders - Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman - had either been killed or wounded.

If true, the gunfight lends credence to the assertion that Mehsud, considered Pakistan's most dangerous man, had indeed been killed.

"Multiple sources are now confirming (Mehsud)'s dead," including at least two Taliban commanders, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said, adding the reports of infighting were "one of the biggest, latest indicators."

"Why there is a fight, why this fight for succession? These are very strong indicators which are leading toward reasonable confirmation that he is killed," Abbas said.

He said authorities were unable at present to confirm what exactly had occurred in the Taliban meeting in the Waziristan region where the gunbattle is believed to have broken out.

"The reports are coming that there has been infighting. Who has been killed and who has been injured has yet to be confirmed, it is yet to be established," he said.


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