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Pakistani Taliban Commander Claims Temporary Leadership of Group


A top Pakistani Taliban commander says he is temporarily assuming leadership of the militant group because its chief Baitullah Mehsud is unwell.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say they suspect Mehsud was killed earlier this month in a drone missile strike. Taliban commanders have given differing stories on whether he was killed, but Mehsud himself has not been heard from since the strike.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad says Taliban commanders recently held a meeting because Mehsud is seriously ill, and named him as the new temporary leader.

There have been reports of a struggle over the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, and other commanders have not publicly said if they approve of Mohammad's leadership role.

Pakistan has had some success against militants recently, having captured two top Taliban associates, including senior Mehsud aide Maulvi Omar.

Mehsud is blamed for a wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan over the past two years and is accused of orchestrating the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

Meanwhile, U.S. General David Petraeus is in Pakistan for talks with top military leaders on the army offensive against Islamic extremists.

General Petraeus met with Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where they discussed closer military cooperation, including future deliveries of U.S. equipment to help Pakistan expand its offensive against the Taliban.

Pakistani troops have largely dislodged Islamic fighters from northwestern Swat Valley and surrounding areas, although the region remains insecure due to sporadic militant violence.

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke is also in Pakistan, where he met with top officials on Tuesday to urge them to maintain pressure on Islamic extremists based in the country.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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