Pashtun residents say militants have imposed extremist views on the population, displacing centuries-old traditions.
Meanwhile, another US airstrike on South Waziristan – like the one that targeted Baitullah Mehsud – killed 10 suspected militants Tuesday.
A reported shootout over who will succeed Baitullah Mehsud as chief may have killed one top candidate and critically injured another.
Without the charismatic Baitullah Mehsud, feuding Islamist militants could splinter.
The probable death of Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader with thousands of followers, could reduce terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The impact on the war in Afghanistan is less certain.
US and Pakistani forces have been homing in on Baitullah Mehsud with missile attacks on his stronghold in South Waziristan.
US envoy Richard Holbrooke Thursday defended the military, which has been launching 'softening up' operations in South Waziristan for more than a month.
The step is a blow to the military as it battles a Taliban leader in a neighboring province. The two Taliban movements could now join forces.
The traditionally restive region became a base for militants after the US ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.