A US drone strike has killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban, Wali ur Rehman, in the North Waziristan region, according to security officials in Pakistan.
Rehman, who had a $5m US government bounty on his head, reportedly died along with at least five others when two missiles were fired on a house early on Wednesday.
Officials in several towns, as well as tribal and intelligence sources, said Rehman was killed in the attack in Chashma village near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Two officials said their informants in the field saw Rehman’s body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between fighters saying Rehman had been killed.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, however, denied the reports.
“This appears to me to be false news. I don’t have any such information,” Ahsanullah Ahsan told the AP news agency.
The Pakistani Taliban is a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they have launched repeated attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
Security officials said the others killed in the attack were also TTP cadres and included two of the outfit’s local-level commanders. There were no initial reports of civilian casualties.
Washington had accused Rehman of organising attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and also wanted him in connection with a suicide attack on an American base in Afghanistan in 2009 that killed seven CIA agents.
Rehman had been a prominent figure in the TTP since its inception in 2007 and was second-in-command of the national hierarchy behind Hakimullah Mehsud, as well as leading the group in South Waziristan.
|Rehman was wanted by the US in connection with a suicide attack that killed seven CIA agents [Reuters]|
There had been speculation that Rehman had fallen out with Mehsud but a new video, showing the two men together, was released last year and served to deny that.
The US would not confirm that Rehman had been killed.
“We are not in a position to confirm the reports of Wali ur-Rehman’s death,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“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.” Carney said.
Wednesday’s raid was the first drone attack since the May 11 general elections won by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League.
Sharif, who is preparing to take power in the first week of June, has called the drone strikes a “challenge” to his country’s sovereignty.
He has also said the US must take Pakistani concerns seriously.
Pakistan repeated on Friday its view that US drone strikes in its territory were illegal, after President Barack Obama laid out new guidelines for their use.
Last week, Obama said his covert drone war was legal and just, but warned that undisciplined use of the tactic would invite abuses of power.
He said he had approved new guidelines stating that drone strikes could only be used to prevent imminent attacks and when the capture of a suspect was not feasible and if there was a “near certainty” that civilians would not be killed.
According to Britain’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone attacks targeting suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan have killed up to 3,587 people since 2004, including up to 884 civilians.