Two Pakistani Taliban commanders acknowledged that top leader Baitullah Mehsud is dead, saying he died 18 days after a US missile strike and disputing reports that the al Qaida linked movement he left behind is falling apart.
In a joint phone call to The Associated Press, Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud confirmed an earlier Taliban announcement that the latter was the new Pakistani Taliban chief.
Hakimullah Mehsud, 28, is considered a hotheaded, ruthless militant who might have problems keeping the Taliban unified, but yesterday's call signalled that he is solidly in charge for now.
Pakistani officials said that the Taliban were in disarray after Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA missile strike earlier this month and that his would-be successors were locked in a bitter power struggle.
Some unconfirmed reports had said that Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed in a shootout during a meeting to choose an heir.
Baitullah Mehsud's death is a victory for the US and Pakistan.
Pakistan considered him its number one internal threat because of the numerous attacks he staged on its soil, while the Americans saw him as an unacceptable danger to the stability of a nuclear-armed ally and to the war effort in neighbouring Afghanistan.
US and Pakistani officials have said they are near-certain that the August 5 missile strike in South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, immediately killed Baitullah Mehsud.
The militants insisted for weeks that the 30-something militant leader was alive, but never offered proof.