Senior Pakistani militant leader Maulvi Nazir Wazir, better known as Mullah Nazir, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike in the north-western tribal district of South Waziristan, media reports citing local residents and officials said on Thursday.
Pakistani intelligence sources were quoted as saying on condition of anonymity by the local media that Wednesday's missile attack in the village of Angoor Adda also killed at least five other militants, including Mullah Nazir's deputy Ratta Khan.
Local residents said they heard announcements on mosque loudspeakers that Mullah Nazir was dead and that his funeral would be held on Thursday.
Mullah Nazir was reportedly the principal commander of the Wazir tribe, which preferred attacking American and other NATO troops stationed in neighboring Afghanistan instead of targeting Pakistani security personnel.
His refusal to target Pakistani troops is said to have put him at odds with other Pakistani Taliban commanders and brought him closer to the country's government, which views militant commanders like him as key elements in maintaining internal security.
Mullah Nazir had survived a suicide bomb attack in November. It is believed that the suicide bombing was carried out on the orders of rival commanders from other Taliban factions active in the country's north-western tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.
The U.S. and the Pakistani government are yet to comment on either Wednesday's drone strike or Mullah Nazir's death. If confirmed, it will be the first U.S. drone strike on Pakistani soil in the New Year.
U.S. military does not confirm or deny drone attacks inside Pakistan, but the American armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency operating in Afghanistan are believed to be the only entities capable of deploying such unmanned aircraft in the region.
U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan remain to be a very sensitive issue in the South Asian country. The Pakistani government has often protested against such cross-border missile attacks, stressing that they violate its sovereignty. Islamabad also insists that such drone strikes are counter-productive as they end up killing civilians along with the targeted militants.
After President Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009, there has been a spurt in the number of U.S. drone attacks. Besides, Obama has admitted that the U.S. carries out regular drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan's tribal regions as they hit militant targets inside Pakistan without engaging in more "intrusive military action."
U.S. officials insist that Pakistan's reluctance to launch anti-militant operations in North Waziristan has turned the region into a militant hotbed, which the Taliban and other al-Qaeda linked militants often use as a base to plan attacks on foreign coalition troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Although the Pakistani military has launched anti-Taliban operations in six of the seven regions in the country's troubled north-west including South Waziristan, it has so far resisted U.S. calls to take on Taliban militants in North Waziristan.
by RTT Staff Writer
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