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, Pakistani security officials said yesterday.
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. 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 said.
The official said the attack happened on Wednesday night 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 for 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," said Pakistani author and analyst Imtiaz Gul.
One Pakistani security official said Nazir and his fighters were targeted as they prepared to swap vehicles when their pick-up vehicle had a mechanical fault. Two of his influential deputies, Atta Ullah and Rafey Khan, were among those killed, the official said.
In the neighbouring district of North Waziristan, another US drone strike killed four militants yesterday, officials said.