A breaking report from ABC News says Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, may have been killed by a U.S. drone strike.
A month ago, Imtiaz Ali profiled Mehsud for Foreign Policy:
Meet Baitullah Mehsud -- Pakistan's biggest problem, and the man who has taken his country of 176 million to the center of the West's war on terror. Once described by a Pakistani general as a "soldier of peace," he now carries a 50 million rupee (about $615,300) bounty on his head from Pakistan and a $5 million one from the United States. Mehsud is earning the ire of the Pakistani military and Western policymakers alike as his movement destabilizes Pakistan, and the United States has destroyed several of his hide-outs with drone strikes in recent months. His now-famous 2008 press conference -- which came almost exactly a decade after Osama bin Laden called for the killing of Americans in a similar announcement just across the border in Khost, Afghanistan -- was an extraordinary piece of stagecraft even for a commander with a certain penchant for public flare. By incautiously exposing his location to a big group of journalists, Mehsud should have facilitated his own capture; that he didn't serves as ongoing testament to the incompetence (and perhaps lack of will) of those who purport to pursue him.
Mehsud's growing influence is of particular concern to Western policymakers because Pakistan represents the gravest general security threat to the international community -- the prospect of a nuclear-armed al Qaeda. Keeping Pakistan's nuclear weapons out of the hands of Islamist extremists is contingent on a stable Pakistani state, and Mehsud is the one man perhaps most capable of destabilizing it.
One initial thought: 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.
But if the U.S. military can kill such looming figures in the radical world without sacrificing a single troop, or ground efforts, or too many civilians? We're looking at a very different vision of counter-terrorism and war.