* U.S. says evidence of Mehmud's death "pretty conclusive"
* Taliban commander denies report of infighting, shootout
* Taliban says govt fabricating reports of dissent in ranks
* Mehmud's deputy says video soon to prove he is still alive
(Adds more quotes from U.S. security adviser)
By Alamgir Bitani
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug 9 The United States said
on Sunday the evidence was "pretty conclusive" that Pakistani
Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is dead, while a senior Taliban
commander denied reports of infighting among its leaders.
The White House had earlier said it could not confirm the
Pakistan government's claims that Pakistani Taliban chief
Baitullah Mehsud had been killed by a CIA drone.
But asked on Sunday if Baitullah had been killed in the
attack, national security adviser Jim Jones told NBC's "Meet the
Press": "We think so. We put it in the 90 percent category."
"We know that there are some reports now from the Mehsud
tribe that he wasn't (killed), but the evidence is pretty
The comments add to a volley of unverifiable claims and
counter-claims by the Pakistani government and the Taliban that
have surrounded the reported death of Mehsud last Wednesday.
Western governments with troops in Afghanistan are watching
to see if any new Pakistani Taliban leader would shift focus
from fighting the Pakistani government and put the movement's
weight behind the Afghan insurgency led by Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Taliban commanders have said the government is fabricating
reports of dissent within its ranks to promote division and
undermine the movement.
Taliban commander Wali-ur-Rehman earlier on Sunday denied
reports he had been involved in a shootout with a rival for the
Pakistani Taliban leadership, Hakimullah Mehsud. [ID:nISL458689]
Wali-ur-Rehman, speaking by telephone from an undisclosed
location to a Reuters reporter who had spoken with him several
times before, also denied that any tribal council meeting, or
shura, had taken place to decide on a successor to Baitullah.
"There are no differences. There was no fighting. We both
are alive, and there was no special shura meeting," he said.
Hakimullah would call journalists soon to prove he too was
alive, Rehman said.
"He definitely will call you and tell you everything," he
Asked about Wali-ur-Rehman's comments, an intelligence
officer in the region, who declined to identified, told Reuters:
"He's just making it up. The shootout took place and some
wounded were shifted to North Waziristan."
Hakimullah Mehsud had earlier denied that Baitullah Mehsud
was killed by the U.S. drone strike in the first place
Baitullah's deputy, Noor Said, told Reuters by telephone
that a video would soon be released to prove that Baitullah was
But Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas
told Reuters it was "quite certain" Baitullah was dead.
"The problem is we don't have material evidence and that
won't be available for quite some time because obviously it's a
remote and inaccessible area," Abbas said.
Baitullah, who suffers from diabetes, has been ill and has
not been looking after the movement's affairs for the past three
months, Rehman conceded.
U.S. officials have said the death of Baitullah, if
confirmed, could set the movement back temporarily but was
unlikely to cripple the Taliban in Pakistan or have a big impact
on efforts to stem the group's resurgence in Afghanistan.
Some analysts have said the Pakistani leadership would be
split over who should be the next chief, suggesting denials of
his death could be aimed at buying time to choose a new leader.
"In terms of the region, it (Baitullah's death) means that
the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistan government are doing
quite well in terms of their fight against extremism," White
House's Jim Jones said.
"Baitullah Mehsud was the public enemy number one in
Pakistan, so it's their biggest target, and we've already seen
evidence of dissension in the ranks about who's going to follow
Hakimullah, who controls fighters in the Orakzai, Kurram and
Khyber tribal regions, is regarded as one of the leading
contenders to replace Baitullah Mehsud, who had a $5 million
U.S. bounty on his head.
Wali-ur-Rehman is another shura member and a former
spokesman for Baitullah.
(For more stories on Pakistan & Afghanistan, click [ID:nAFPAK])
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Jason
Subler; editing by Patrick Graham)