Key Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir – considered a "good" Taliban by some among the Pakistani military – died in a US drone strike that left at least six dead on Thursday, according to local reports.
According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, Taliban and local government officials confirm that Mr. Nazir and at least two of his deputies were killed when a US drone hit their vehicle in South Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region along the Afghan border. The commander's truck had reportedly broken down at the time.
The Guardian notes that neither the Pakistani government nor the Taliban has made an official statement on the reports, and that details remain murky.
Because journalists are usually prevented by militants from visiting places hit by drones, the exact details of what happened and who was killed in such attacks are often extremely hard to verify.
Residents and an intelligence official in South Waziristan who spoke to a local journalist said the total number of people killed in the first attack was either six or 10. The intelligence source said all the men killed were "top leaders" of the Mullah Nazir group, the leading militant group in South Waziristan.
Maulvi Nazir was the primary militant commander in South Waziristan and a key figure in Pakistan's Taliban, having maintained a complex set of relationships among the region's players.
Unlike some of Pakistan's domestic militants, Nazir chose to focus his efforts fully on Afghanistan and the NATO and US forces stationed there, and according to the US “had a clear collaboration” with Afghanistan's powerful Haqqani network, a primary foe of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Washington Post notes that he was accused of regularly sending troops into Afghanistan to fight alongside the country's own Taliban against the US-led forces there.
His Afghan focus on targeting foreign troops earned him a reputation with parts of the Pakistani military as a "good" Taliban, and he negotiated a deal with the Islamabad to stay out of its battle with domestic militants in the region. His militants have also aided Pakistani troops in attacking members of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an anti-Islamabad faction of the Taliban.
But that also earned him the hostility of some of his domestic Taliban peers. Nazir was wounded in November during a suicide attack on his convoy. Rival Taliban commanders were believed to have been behind the attack, which was said to have caused some fracturing of the Pakistani Taliban in the region.
Security analyst Imtiaz Gul told the Guardian that Nazir's death will likely be welcomed by both the US and Pakistan – despite the latter's peace deal with the late militant.
"Both the US and Pakistan will be happy because they now have one less enemy," he said. "Although he was in an undeclared peace deal with the government, he was also subverting the stated goals of that agreement by providing support and shelter to al-Qaida people whose leaders have pleaded with the rank and file of the Pakistani army to rebel against the state."