Taliban leader Qari Hussain? Killed in January 2008 … until he appeared at a news conference a few months later in Waziristan.
Al Qaeda official Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri? Annihilated in a drone attack in September … but still able to give an exclusive interview in October.
Taliban honcho Hakimullah Mehsud? Wiped out in a missile attack in January … or was he?
Reports on Thursday that Mehsud was only wounded in that U.S. drone attack have prompted questions about the quality of intelligence emerging from Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran currently with the Brookings Institution, described the latest reports as “a useful reminder that claims of the drones’ successes need to be judged with caution.”
“Intelligence is not a science experiment,” Mr. Riedel said. “It is a difficult task of resolving conflicting data over time.”
According to an Associated Press dispatch, four intelligence officers said Pakistan’s main spy agency now thinks Mehsud is alive, citing electronic surveillance and reports from sources in the field, including from inside the Taliban.
U.S. officials privately have expressed frustration with the level of cooperation from Pakistani officials in the fight against militant groups.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency helped create the Taliban in the 1990s. Despite pressure from the U.S. to sever links with the militants in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, U.S. officials and analysts say some elements in the Pakistani establishment remain sympathetic to terrorist groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
“Our close relationship with the Pakistanis is based on common interests, particularly our shared commitment to fight terror,” said a U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. “They have people dying almost every day, after all. But there are some groups that at least some parts of the Pakistani state see differently than we do.”
The official said that when it comes to fighting al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, “there’s really no daylight” between the Washington and Islamabad.
Still, the premature announcement of the death or capture of a terrorist is far from uncommon.
In January, Pakistani authorities announced that they had arrested Adam Gadahn, an American al Qaeda spokesman wanted in the U.S. on a charge of treason, in Karachi. Days later, they announced they hadn’t arrested him after all.
While Pakistan’s military has acted against al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, both of which have carried out several attacks in Pakistan and are viewed as direct threats to the state, it has been less eager to take on the Afghan Taliban.
“To speak to the Taliban, you have to go through the Pakistani army and the ISI,” Gilles Dorronsoro, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told a meeting this week, confirming links among the Pakistani army, the ISI and the Taliban.