A suspected US drone strike has killed the number two commander of the Pakistani Taliban, according to intelligence sources.
If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a strong blow to the militant group. Sources said the strike, in the country’s tribal areas, killed a total of four people.
While Rehman was mostly known for his activities in Pakistan, the US said he also participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. He was wanted in connection with his involvement in an attack on a US base in Khost, Afghanistan in 2009 that killed seven Americans,.
The Pakistani Taliban however denied the reports of his death.
The strike was the first since Pakistan’s landmark elections on May 11 in which the American drone program was a hotly debated topic.
It was also the first strike in Pakistan since president Barack Obama’s speech last Thursday during which he discussed more restrictive rules he was implementing on the use of the controversial drones in places such as Pakistan and Yemen.
The tribal region in north-western Pakistan is home to a variety of local and Afghan militant outfits, including al Qaida-linked fighters. The US has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas who then attack American troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials say their military is already overtaxed by fighting militants in both the tribal regions and in the south-western province of Baluchistan and that the casualties they have already suffered have not been properly recognised.
Washington’s drone program is extremely unpopular in Pakistan, although the number of strikes has dropped significantly since the height of the program in 2010.
The strikes usually target al Qaida-linked insurgents or other militants who fight in Afghanistan against Nato, although some strikes have killed militants who are at war with the Pakistani government.
The Pakistani Taliban has been battling government forces for years in a bid to push them from the tribal regions, cut Pakistan’s ties with the US and eventually establish their brand of hard-line Islam across Pakistan.
Pakistan’s incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has repeatedly said he is against the use of American drones on Pakistani soil, and Pakistani officials have demanded publicly that the program be stopped.
Senior civilian and military officials are known to have supported some of the attacks in the past, but many say that is no longer the case.