US drone strike kills senior Pakistani militant
US drone strikes killed a Pakistani warlord who sent men to fight Nato troops in Afghanistan, in raids in northwest Pakistan that also killed nine other fighters, security officials said Thursday.
Mullah Nazir was the main militant commander in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal belt where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants have bases, and he is the highest profile casualty in a drone strike for some time.
Pakistani officials said he was killed when a US drone fired two missiles at his vehicle in the Sar Kanda area of Birmil in South Waziristan, and that five of his loyalists, including two senior deputies, were also killed.
“Mullah Nazir and five associates died on the spot,” one of the officials told reporters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
The official said the attack happened at 3.35am on Thursday but that it took time to confirm the reports from such a far-flung and mountainous area along the Afghan border.
Nazir reached a peace deal with Islamabad in 2007 and had testy relations with the Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting a domestic insurgency. He was also wounded in a suicide attack in South Waziristan on November 29.
But his death may have significance on US-led efforts to hold at bay an 11-year insurgency in neighbouring Afghanistan, where he opposed the presence of US and Nato troops since foreign troops brought down the Taliban regime in 2001.
Nazir was also understood to be close to the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, a faction of the Afghan Taliban blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan and the capital Kabul in recent years.
“The Americans and Afghans suspected Mullah Nazir of sheltering and hosting Arab al-Qaeda operatives,” Pakistani author and analyst, Imtiaz Gul, told reporters.
“They (the US and its coalition partners) want to eliminate whatever elements are left in the border regions to minimise the threat that Arab al-Qaeda poses to US forces in Afghanistan,” he added.
One Pakistani security official said Nazir and his fighters were targeted as they prepared to swap vehicles when their pick-up encountered a mechanical fault.
Two of his influential deputies, Atta Ullah and Rafey Khan, were among those killed, the official added, and Nazir’s fighters have been targeted by US drone strikes in the past.
A local resident in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, said announcements were made from mosques for Nazir’s funeral prayers later on Thursday.
In the neighbouring district of North Waziristan, another US drone strike killed four militants on Thursday, but their identities were not immediately known, other Pakistani security officials said.
The covert US drone strikes are publicly criticised by the Pakistani government as a violation of sovereignty but American officials believe they are a vital weapon in the war against Islamist militants.
A report commissioned by legal lobby group Reprieve in September estimated that between 474 and 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and September this year.