DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – The Pakistani Taliban released a video of their militant chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, but his taped comments fail to prove he survived a U.S. missile strike earlier this year.
U.S. and Pakistani officials have become increasingly confident that the brash militant commander died of wounds from a drone-fired missile in mid-January, but the Pakistani Taliban have denied he was killed.
At the same time, the militants have said they felt no responsibility to definitively prove he's alive.
The 43-minute undated video, obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday, shows a healthy Mehsud in white traditional Pakistani dress answering questions from an interviewer sitting off-screen. Another man, wearing a mask, holds a microphone up to Mehsud.
Mehsud extols the virtues of waging holy war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and warns U.S. forces not to enter Pakistan's tribal belt, a lawless stretch of territory along the Afghan border where his and several other militant networks are based.
"If they make the mistake of entering the Pakistani tribal areas, they will open a new chapter of their destruction in history which may surpass their defeat in Vietnam," Mehsud says in the video.
He also asserts that the U.S. is considering negotiating with the Taliban because it faces defeat in Afghanistan.
Mehsud insists the Pakistani army's offensive against his network in the South Waziristan tribal region has strengthened the militancy. The army says the operation has destroyed much of the group's infrastructure and put its leaders on the run.
Mehsud never mentions the U.S. missile campaign, but does warn viewers against "media propaganda."
A Taliban associate gave the video to an AP reporter in the North Waziristan tribal region, where the U.S. wants Pakistan to stage another military operation. The area is home mostly to militant networks focused on the war in Afghanistan, unlike the Pakistani Taliban, which have staged attacks across Pakistan.
Mehsud is believed to be at least partly responsible for a suicide attack on an eastern Afghanistan CIA base that killed seven agency employees in late December. For several weeks after that attack, the U.S. dramatically escalated its missile strikes in the Pakistani tribal belt, with him apparently in its sights.
The Pakistani Taliban also denied the death of Mehsud's predecessor, who was killed by a U.S. missile strike in August, until they chose his successor weeks later. The same dynamic may be at work now.