(Reuters) – A U.S. drone strike killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.
Pakistani security officials said that the drone strike killed seven people in total, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman. In the May 11 general election, which was bloody and resulted in the assassination of yet another female political leader, the use of unmanned aircraft was a major issue.
Wali-ur-Rehman was to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they have launched devastating attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, told Reuters that they did not have “confirmed reports” that Wali-ur-Rehman had been killed.
Taliban fighters also often seal off the sites of drone strikes immediately so Pakistani journalists cannot see the victims. Saleem Safi, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban, said:
That the Taliban are remaining silent and neither denying or confirming the news is itself peculiar. But if this news is true, then the Pakistan army has the U.S. to thank.
The Foreign Ministry, of course, again denounced drone use on Wednesday.
President Obama recently indicated he was scaling back the drone strike program.
Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif said earlier this month that drone strikes were a “challenge” to Pakistan’s sovereignty. He said:
We will sit with our American friends and talk to them about this issue.
Former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party won most seats in the assembly and denounced the strike, saying Obama had gone back on his word.