WASHINGTON: Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah is top on a list of potential targets for US drones, The Washington Post reported on Monday, quoting official sources.
“Fazlullah is a priority — stalked by spies on the ground and squarely in the sights of armed drones,” a senior US Special Operations official told the Post. “He is very high on the leader board. We have assets focused on killing him.”
The US media reported earlier this month that the Obama administration was preparing new guidelines for attacking suspected terrorists but would continue to give the CIA a free hand in targeting terrorists inside Fata.
The report has irked Pakistan, which has repeatedly asked the US administration to reconsider its policy of using drones for attacking terrorists inside Fata. While Pakistanis agree with the US claim that the drones have killed many top terrorists, they complain that a large number of civilians have also been killed.
Pakistani officials also say that while the Americans are keen to target Afghan Taliban leaders, they do not show equal enthusiasm in attacking Pakistani militants.
The Americans reject this charge, pointing out that the drones have also killed dozens of senior Pakistani Taliban, including their leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike on Aug 23, 2009.
Pakistani officials, however, counter this argument by claiming that the Afghan government has allowed Maulana Fazlullah and other Swat Taliban to use their territory for carrying out cross-border attacks inside Pakistan. And the Americans are not using their influence to prevent the Afghan government from doing so.
“Pakistan officials complained for years, and again after the attack on Malala Yousufzai in October, that US forces were doing too little to stop Fazlullah,” the Post noted but also pointed out that “this has (now) changed”.
The Post also quoted “conflicting reports from the region” as saying that a recent US drone strike in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province might have killed Fazlullah. “Neither US nor Pakistan officials have been able to confirm his death. Some of his followers assert that he is still alive,” the report added.
The Post noted that Maulana Fazlullah remained little known outside Pakistan until this past October, when a gunman associated with him tried to kill Malala for demanding equal education opportunities for girls.
Malala survived the assassination attempt and is now recuperating with her family in Britain.
The attempted assassination of a 15-year-old girl made headlines worldwide, and now “Fazlullah is notorious for murdering and maiming schoolgirls as part of his vicious campaign to impose Taliban rule on Pakistan,” the report added.
The Post report also shows how a blast Fazlullah orchestrated outside a school in Swat affected lives in both Pakistan and the United States.
The blast killed three schoolgirls and wounded more than 100 students and teachers. US Army Staff Sgt. Mark Stets, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew S. Sluss-Tiller and Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman were also killed in the attack.
Sluss-Tiller, Stets and Hartman had five daughters and one young son. “These children and their mothers have struggled to deal with their losses. Some have fallen into deep depression,” the report noted.
And Pakistani survivors of the 2010 school blast, like Sara Ali, 14, who suffered major back injuries, “live in fear of another attack”, the report added.