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Assassinating Our Way to a Better Taliban?

February 13, 2012

Dead or alive? Beneficial to Washington or Islamabad?

Last week Archive Afghanistan Analyst Barbara Elias-Sanborn examined the strategic consequences of targeted drone strikes against Taliban leaders in Pakistan on Foreignaffairs.com.

The CIA is certainly eager to drop missiles on bad guys like Hakimullah Mehsud (a key figure in the Camp Chapman attack that left seven agency employees dead), but it is unclear if killing Mehsud helps the U.S. better its strategic position in “Af-Pak.” According to the article, the death of a Pakistani Taliban leader like Mehsud is more likely to benefit Islamabad, not Washington. Sure, splintering the group through assassinations is likely to create opportunities for Islamabad to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, but any militants willing to agree to abandon their fight against Pakistani government
targets are, in exchange, likely to receive a green light from Islamabad to battle U.S. and allied Afghan interests in Afghanistan and beyond.

For now it is even unclear if Mehsud was killed in the January 12, 2012 strike that was aiming for him. This is not new. Multiple claims have been made over the years by Pakistani officials that H. Mehsud, like his predecessors, had fallen victim to U.S. Predator drones. But so far each pronouncement was later proven false by videos of Mehsud alive and well. Once again, Mehsud could be dead, injured or unscathed. Regardless, the U.S. drone campaign continues. But how exactly these assassinations further U.S. strategic goals of reconciliation and withdrawal in Afghanistan remains unclear.

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