U.S. ATTACK KILLS TALIBAN’S MEHSUD…. It appears that Pakistani officials and Taliban members have confirmed that Baitullah Mehsud, the top leader of the Taliban in Pakistan, was killed on Wednesday by a U.S. airstrike. It’s a fairly significant development for the region.
Mehsud, the NYT noted, “has been considered Pakistan’s public enemy No. 1 and was blamed for the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and scores of suicide bombings, including the truck bomb that exploded at the entrance to the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, leaving more than 50 people dead last September.” The WaPo added that Mehsud is “an al-Qaeda ally and one of Pakistan’s most feared terrorists.”
In terms of geo-political considerations, if the U.S. has successfully killed Mehsud, the strike has dealt “a major blow to the Islamist militia’s violent agenda in” Pakistan. Mahmood Shah, a former security chief in the tribal region, said, “This is a major setback for the Taliban in Pakistan. He was the leader. The successors are all non-entities.” Shah added that the U.S. strike will “weaken” the Taliban “quite a lot.”
As counter-terrorism success stories go, in other words, this, if accurate, is not a routine, everyday victory.
Andrew Sullivan notes the larger political significance for the United States.
Killing the leader of the group that protected bin Laden seems like a big deal to me. Think for a minute about the attempt to paint Obama as Carter. Now think of three real-time operations — the killing of the Somali pirates, the release of the NoKo hostages, and now the targeted killing of the Taliban’s leader. Does that sound like Jimmy Carter to you? Now how about getting Osama? Wouldn’t that be a coup? I suspect he’s working hard on it.
Kevin Drum added that when it comes to these isolated victories, President Obama has been “remarkably successful. Or remarkably lucky. Or both. Either way, though, these little successes breed a sense of competence and self-possession that can help make things go better on the larger stage too.”
That sounds right to me. In fact, I’ve found it interesting that in many of the recent national polls, the president’s approval rating is strongest on foreign policy, which were told during the campaign, isn’t supposed to be his principal strength as a leader. And while he’ll no doubt face more daunting challenges (cough, cough, Afghanistan exit strategy, cough), Obama has fared very well so far, not only in responding to key tests, but doing so while improving confidence in the United States around the globe.