Pakistani intelligence officials say Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is alive

The Washington Post reports:

Even by the standards of a bullet- and bomb-dodging Taliban commander, Hakimullah Mehsud has displayed notable survival skills.

The Pakistani Taliban chief was thought to have died in a leadership duel last summer, only to stage a news conference a few days later. A U.S. drone strike in January was followed by intense speculation about his fate, then statements by Pakistani intelligence officials that he was “100 percent” dead.

On Thursday, those intelligence officials circulated another message: Mehsud is alive.

Earlier reports that Mehsud was dead — repeated by U.S. officials — were hailed as a potentially fatal blow to the Pakistani Taliban, a loose network of border-based militants that has carried out a cascade of suicide attacks in recent years. News of his survival again underscored the staying power of a group that Pakistan’s military has targeted with unprecedented force in the past year. It also has exposed blind spots within the Pakistani and U.S. intelligence services, which struggle to develop reliable information in Taliban strongholds.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports:

A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants’ heartland.

The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country’s Western-backed government.

But the Pentagon said it remained optimistic that its counter-insurgency strategy, formed after an Obama administration review last year, and its effort to peel foot soldiers away from the Taliban will show success in months to come.

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