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Top Taliban leader killed by US drone

May 30, 2013

MIRAMSHAH, May 29: A front-rank leader of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan was killed in a US drone attack in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday, security and tribal administration officials said.

Waliur Rehman, TTP’s second-in-command and its commander-in-charge for South Waziristan, was among six militants killed in the attack. Two senior commanders and two foreign militants of Uzbek origin were among those killed, the officials said.

TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan declined to comment on reports about the drone strike and the death of Waliur Rehman. “This is a major setback for the TTP. He was a cool-headed and calculated militant who wielded a lot of influence,” a senior government official said of Waliur Rehman.

The drone fired four missiles on a house in Chashma Pull area, about two kilometres east of here at around 3am. “The loud noise after the missile strike was heard in Miramshah. The drones continued to hover above. We couldn’t sleep afterwards,” a resident said. Local militants cordoned off the area immediately after the attack and carried away the bodies and the injured, one resident said.

Authorities in the militant-infested North Waziristan have particularly no presence in the region and have to rely on tribal contacts for information. The drone strike has taken place just six days after President Obama had unveiled his policy of curtailing the use of drone to limit civilian casualties. Incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who assumes office next week, plans to negotiate peace with militants and end drone attacks through ‘serious’ negotiations with the Obama administration but analysts said the strike was a wake-up call to the PML-N leader and has the potentials of derailing his peace overtures to Taliban.

The US has carried out more than 360 drone attacks in the tribal region, but there have been fewer attacks this year after the controversial programme came under renewed scrutiny of human right groups and demand made by congressional critics for increased transparency in its operation.

The 42-year-old TTP commander had Rs50 million bounty on his head announced by the Government of Pakistan and carried $5 million reward from the US which had enlisted him as a “specially designated global terrorist”.

Waliur Rehman, who studied at a seminary in Faisalabad, joined the TTP in 2004 but he was believed to be closer to the Haqqani network than to Hakeemullah Mehsud’s group with which he had less than comfortable relations.

A government official in Peshawar said it would be interesting to see how things shape up within the TTP over Waliur Rehman’s successor, considering his influence over commanders in his native South Waziristan.

US KEEPS MUM: The United States refused to confirm that it killed the number two in the Pakistani Taliban, despite President Barack Obama’s promise of more transparency on the drone war, AFP adds.

“We are not in a position to confirm the reports of Waliur Rehman’s death,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“If those reports were true, or prove to be true, it’s worth noting that his demise would deprive the TTP of its second-in-command and chief military strategist,” Mr Carney said.

The spokesman would not confirm whether the attack on Waliur Rehman satisfied the new criteria for drone strikes established by Mr Obama last week during a speech that aimed to recast the country’s decade-long battle against terrorism.