A suspected US drone strike today killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistani intelligence officials said, although the militant group denied he was killed.
Pakistan's Taliban denies death of its deputy commander
If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a blow to the militant group responsible for hundreds of bombings and shootings across Pakistan. The United States has a US$5 million (Dh18.36m) bounty out on Rehman, who Washington has accused of involvement in the 2009 suicide attack on a US base in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans working for the CIA.
Missiles fired by a US drone slammed into a house early yesterday in Miran Shah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region, killing five people, including Rehman, Pakistani officials said.
Two officials said informants in the field saw Rehman's body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between militants saying Rehman had been killed.
But a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied the reports.
"This appears to me to be false news. I don't have any such information," said Ahsanullah Ahsan.
Most of North Waziristan is under militant control, and journalists cannot access the rugged region near the Afghan border, making independent confirmation difficult.
The missile attack was the first since Pakistan's May 11 elections in which the US drone programme was a hotly debated topic. It was also the first strike in Pakistan since Barack Obama's speech last Thursday wherein he discussed more restrictive rules he was implementing on drone use.
The tribal region in north-west Pakistan is home to local and Afghan militant outfits, including fighters linked to Al Qaeda. The US has often criticised Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas who then attack US troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan says its military is already overtaxed fighting militants in the tribal regions and in the south-west province of Baluchistan.
The US drone programme remains deeply unpopular in Pakistan, even though the number of strikes has dropped significantly since the height of the programme in 2010.
The Pakistani Taliban, officially called the Tehrik-e-Taliban, has been battling government forces for years in an attempt to push them from the tribal regions, cut Pakistan's ties with the US and eventually establish its brand of hardline Islam across Pakistan.
Rehman has been on the US radar for years. In 2010, Washington offered $5 million for information leading to Rehman under their "Rewards for Justice" programme.
While Rehman was mostly known for his activities in Pakistan, the US said that he also participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against US and Nato personnel.