PESHAWAR, Pakistan • Two U.S. drone strikes on northwest Pakistan killed a senior Taliban commander who fought American forces in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, intelligence officials said Thursday.
The commander, Maulvi Nazir, was among nine people killed in a missile strike on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan late Wednesday night, five Pakistani security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
At least four people were killed in a separate drone strike on Thursday morning near Mir Ali, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region.
America’s use of drones against militants in Pakistan has increased substantially under President Barack Obama and the program has killed a number of top militant commanders over the past year.
But the drone strikes are extremely contentious in Pakistan, seen as an infringement on the country’s sovereignty. And while the U.S. maintains that it targets militants, many Pakistanis complain that innocent civilians have also been killed.
Nazir’s killing could cause even more friction in the already tense relations between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan is believed to have struck a nonaggression pact with Nazir ahead of its 2009 military operation against militants in South Waziristan.
Fighters under Nazir’s command focused their attacks on American forces in neighboring Afghanistan, earning him the enmity of the U.S.
But many in Pakistan’s military viewed Nazir and militant chiefs like him as "good Taliban," meaning they focus attacks only on foreign forces in Afghanistan, keeping domestic peace by not attacking Pakistani targets.
Nazir outraged many Pakistanis in June when he announced that he would not allow any polio vaccinations in territory under his control until the U.S. stops drone attacks in the region.
Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is still endemic. Nine workers helping in anti-polio vaccination campaigns were killed last month by militant gunmen and the killings this week of five female teachers and two aid workers may also have been linked to their work on the polio campaigns.
Residents in Angoor Adda and Wana, the biggest town in South Waziristan, said mosque loudspeakers announced Nazir’s death. One resident, Ajaz Khan, said 5,000 to 10,000 people attended the funeral of Nazir and six other people in Angoor Adda.
Ahmed Yar, a resident who attended the funeral, said Nazir’s body was badly burned and his face unrecognizable.
Reports of individual deaths in such cases are often difficult to independently verify. Pakistani and foreign journalists have a hard time traveling to the remote areas where many of these strikes occur, and the U.S. rarely comments on its secretive drone program.
Nazir was active in many parts of Afghanistan and had close ties with Arab members of al-Qaida as well as the Afghan Taliban, said Mansur Mahsud, the head of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, which studies the tribal regions.
"His death is a great blow to the Afghan Taliban," he said.
The Taliban is a widely diverse group. The Afghan Taliban is made up mostly of Afghans who fight against U.S. and NATO troops. In Pakistan the group has been divided with some fighting the Pakistani government because of its support for the U.S. Other Taliban groups in Pakistan, such as Nazir’s, focus their energies on fighting American and NATO troops in Afghanistan but have a truce with the Pakistani military.
Nazir, who was believed to be about 40 years old, had property in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He used to be a member of Hizb-e-Islami, a militant Islamist group run by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The group has thousands of fighters and followers across the north and east of Afghanistan.
Nazir had survived several assassination attempts including at least two previous American drone strikes.
In November, a suicide bomber tried to kill him as he was arriving at an office where he used to meet with local residents and hear their complaints. Nazir and more than a dozen other people were wounded in the attack, and seven were killed.
No group claimed responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on rival militants including the head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, who had been jockeying with Nazir for power in South Waziristan. The TTP is an umbrella group of militants formed to oust the Pakistani government and install a hardline Islamist regime. They have been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan in recent years.
Nazir’s non-aggression pact with the Pakistani military allowed the army to launch a massive operation in South Waziristan against the TTP which displaced more than 800,000 people and drove Hakimullah Mehsud from the region.Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.