ISLAMABAD – An American drone strike in Pakistan has killed a top Taliban commander who sent money and fighters to battle the U.S. in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, officials said Thursday.
The death of Maulvi Nazir is likely to be seen in Washington as affirmation of the necessity of the controversial U.S. drone program. It is likely to be viewed in a different light by military officials in Pakistan, however, because Nazir did not focus on Pakistani targets.
Nazir was killed when two missiles slammed into a house in a village in South Waziristan while he was meeting with supporters and fellow commanders. Eight other people were killed, according to five Pakistani security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The U.S. rarely comments on its secretive drone program, and Pentagon spokesman George Little said he could not confirm Nazir’s death, but he added that if true, it would be a significant blow to extremist groups in the region.
He said it would be helpful not only to the U.S. and to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan, because this is someone who has a great deal of blood on his hands.
At least four people were killed in a separate drone strike Thursday in the North Waziristan tribal region.
America’s use of drones against militants in Pakistan has increased substantially under President Obama, and the program killed a number of top militants in the past year.
But the drone strikes infuriate many Pakistanis who see them as a violation of their country’s sovereignty. Many Pakistanis complain that innocent civilians have also been killed, something the U.S. rejects.
Nazir’s killing could cause even more friction in the already-tense relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
A Pakistani official said while his government continues to object to the drone strikes, it does not object to removing Nazir from the battlefield, because despite his reported cooperation with the Pakistani government, he was suspected to have aided groups who attack Pakistani troops.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.