Not to harp on this Beitullah Mehsud death, but I write in the Windy that this is really a test for the Pakistani military now:

U.S. officials for months have been quick to say that the Pakistanis are getting more and more capable with counterinsurgency and embrace its tenets more with each passing day. But I’ve heard from some officials that the military conceives of its real enemy as Mehsud himself, presuming that the network he created will shatter in his absence and that the conditions amongst the people — political, social, economic, etc. — that allowed it to take root are a minor concern. Well, if they’re right, mission accomplished:

Mehsud is (almost definitely) dead. The problem is that ignores everything we’ve learned about extremist movements like the Pakistani Taliban.

It’s not that Mehsud is an unimportant figure, or that movements can’t fracture with the deaths of their leaders. A commenter, Abdullah, at the Windy, noted, "Mehsud is/was a person who was increasingly isolated in Pakistan and even in his own Mehsud Tribe. He lost support after people saw his men blasting hotels, mass killing ordinary people and blowing up girls schools." But the issue is that insurgent groups tend to organize themselves precisely for survivability in the event of decapitation. In Iraq, the U.S. killed and detained a lot of al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, but only when the Sunni Iraqi population decisively turned against AQI did the terrorist network find itself, for all strategic purposes, defeated.

I’m not saying that what happened in Iraq is guaranteed to repeat itself in Pakistan. But the New York Times reports that already Mehsud’s deputies are meeting to see who replaces him and where the movement goes next. This is an opportunity that the Pakistani military and its government can seize or can miss. And like Abu Muqawama, my sense is that the Pakistanis are primed to miss it. "The successors are all non-entities," a former tribal-area security chief scoffed to the Times.

We’re only deluding ourselves if we think that the decisive moment for Pakistan’s victory over the Taliban was Mehsud’s death. And after eight long years of this, we have no excuse for those delusions.

Not to harp on this Beitullah Mehsud death, but I write in the Windy that this is really a test for the Pakistani military now:

U.S. officials for months have been quick to say that the Pakistanis are getting more and more capable with counterinsurgency and embrace its tenets more with each passing day. But I’ve heard from some officials that the military conceives of its real enemy as Mehsud himself, presuming that the network he created will shatter in his absence and that the conditions amongst the people — political, social, economic, etc. — that allowed it to take root are a minor concern. Well, if they’re right, mission accomplished:

Mehsud is (almost definitely) dead. The problem is that ignores everything we’ve learned about extremist movements like the Pakistani Taliban.

It’s not that Mehsud is an unimportant figure, or that movements can’t fracture with the deaths of their leaders. A commenter, Abdullah, at the Windy, noted, "Mehsud is/was a person who was increasingly isolated in Pakistan and even in his own Mehsud Tribe. He lost support after people saw his men blasting hotels, mass killing ordinary people and blowing up girls schools." But the issue is that insurgent groups tend to organize themselves precisely for survivability in the event of decapitation. In Iraq, the U.S. killed and detained a lot of al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, but only when the Sunni Iraqi population decisively turned against AQI did the terrorist network find itself, for all strategic purposes, defeated. (more…)

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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