Pakistan Taliban’s No. 2 Commander Targeted by U.S. DroneTerry Atlas and Haris Anwar
A U.S. drone attack yesterday killed the deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban, who allegedly was involved in the 2009 suicide attack on a Central Intelligence Agency outpost in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans, according to a U.S. official.
Pakistani intelligence officials said Waliur Rehman was killed in the strike, though the group denied he was dead, the Associated Press reported. The attack came six days after President Barack Obama announced tighter restrictions on targeted killings by remotely piloted aircraft, known as drones. The U.S. official who confirmed the strike asked not to be named because it was a classified operation.
The U.S. State Department posted a $5 million reward for information leading to the location of Rehman, who was named a “specially designated global terrorist” in 2010 for posing a “significant risk” to Americans. The U.S. described Rehman as the second-in-command and chief military strategist of Tehrik-e-Taliban, a militant Islamist group operating from Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.
The State Department said he participated in attacks in Afghanistan and links him to the suicide bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, which was was one of the deadliest attacks in the CIA’s history. A version of the incident was dramatized in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Rehman’s group also has had alleged roles in, or claimed responsibility for, violent acts that include the September 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, which resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people and another 300 wounded, including several Americans.
In addition, the Obama administration has said the group was responsible for planning and financing the failed 2010 bombing of New York City’s Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in the plot, which included training from the Pakistani Taliban.
In a May 23 speech, Obama said he would limit drone strikes and shift their responsibility to the military from the CIA, while retaining wide latitude to authorize such attacks against al-Qaeda targets and those who threaten U.S. and allied forces in and around Afghanistan.
“We act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat,” Obama said.
Rehman would fall within those guidelines due to his alleged involvement in the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman, as well as in what the State Department says were attacks on U.S. and NATO personnel in Afghanistan and against Americans in Pakistan.
Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a house early yesterday in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing four people, including Rehman, three Pakistani officials said, according to the AP.
Two of the officials said their informants in the field saw Rehman’s body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between militants saying Rehman had been killed, the AP reported. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief the media, according to the AP.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied the reports, and some previous reports that Islamic extremists have been killed have been wrong.
Incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other officials have denounced the U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory, even though many have targeted leaders of the Pakistani Taliban who pose a threat to the government and security forces. The group’s goal is to expel Western interests from Pakistan, force the removal of government troops from the tribal areas, and establish Islamic law.
Since winning a May 11 general election, Sharif has repeated pledges made before the vote to push for negotiations with the Taliban. To do so, he’d need to secure the support of Pakistan’s army, which dominates national security issues. A previous peace agreement in 2009 in the Swat Valley was scrapped as insurgents advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad.
Rehman’s killing “is a big setback for the Taliban and will affect any efforts to start peace talks with them,” said Mansur Khan Mehsud of the FATA Research Center in Islamabad, which focuses on issues affecting Pakistan’s tribal areas. “Rehman was one of the key commanders in the organization who was considered closer to the idea of negotiation with the government.”
The latest strike brings the total this year to 13, versus 48 in 2012, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation, a policy research institute in Washington.
The number of drone attacks in Pakistan peaked at 122 in 2010, as Obama ramped up the covert air war against al-Qaeda and militants allegedly involved in attacks in neighboring Afghanistan. In his speech, Obama said attacks in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have been “effective” at eliminating leaders of terrorist groups and reducing threats to Americans.
Pakistan said in a statement yesterday that it was concerned “over the U.S. drone attack that occurred in North Waziristan.”
“The drone strikes are counterproductive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty,” the foreign ministry in Islamabad said in the statement without commenting on reports of Rehman’s death.
Officials at the media unit of Pakistan’s army didn’t immediately return calls seeking details of the strike.