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US drone attack kills Taliban No. 2 in Pakistan, officials and locals say

Saood Rehman / EPA, file

A picture dated 29 July, 2011, shows Wali Rehman (L) talking with journalists, in Shawal, lawless South-Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border in Pakistan. An American drone strike in Pakistan's restive north-western tribal region killed six Taliban militants including deputy leader Rehman Wednesday, officials said.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A U.S drone attack early Wednesday killed the Pakistani Taliban’s No. 2 commander Waliur Rehman in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region, Pakistani security officials and local tribesmen said.

The Taliban have not confirmed his death.  If confirmed, Rehman's assassination would be a huge loss to the already cornered militants engaged in a war against the Pakistani state.

The attack, which killed seven and injured four, according to government officials, comes a few days before the installation of Pakistan's newly-elected government and just days after President Barack Obama said the U.S. would cut down on the use of drones.  

Rehman was a close aide and deputy to Pakistani Taliban founder Baitullah Mahsud, who was killed in a drone attack on August 5, 2009 in South Waziristan.  Rehman was currently the deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban after Hakimullah Mahsud and was head of the organization's most powerful South Waziristan chapter.

After Mahsud and Qari Hussain, a Taliban commander known as the mentor of suicide bombers, Rehman would be the third top Pakistani Taliban leader to be killed in a U.S. attack on Pakistani soil.

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Rehman, 42, was considered as a moderate commander in the Pakistani Taliban compared to some of his colleagues.

"Personally, he was not in favor of suicide attacks in Pakistan,” said Mahsud tribal elder Malik Mahsud Ahmad. “He always supported peace talks between the government and Taliban. I am worried after his death as bloodshed could again start in the country.”

"I am not aware if has been killed, but I believe it wasn't the right time to kill a prominent figure like Waliur Rehman when the newly elected government wanted to hold peace talks with the militants," Ahmad added.

Along with Rehman, there were reports that three other senior militant commanders Fakhre Alam, Naseeruddin and Nasrullah were also killed in the drone attack.

Pakistani security officials and local tribesmen said the drone fired two missiles early Wednesday and struck a mud-built house near Chashma village, about a mile east of Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan.

Government officials said seven people were killed and four injured in the missile strikes. However, local tribesmen insisted that five people were killed and two suffered serious injuries.

"The drone attack took place at 3 a.m. and villagers arrived there after an hour and started rescue work," a security official said on the condition of anonymity.

He added that they had initially no idea about the identity of the people killed, but it was revealed when the militants and their sympathizers started talking about the death of Rehman.

Taliban quiet
The Pakistani Taliban kept mum over reports of the death of one of their top commanders.

Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan denied reports about Rehman's death. Insisting that he was alive, he said they would issue a statement after speaking with him.

The political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s spokesperson said party chief Imran Khan had condemned the latest drone strike and said it was against Pakistan's sovereignty.

"U.S. President Barack Obama had made a commitment recently that drone strikes in Pakistan would be carried out with the consultation of the newly elected government. However, the president didn't fulfill his commitment and conducted the drone attack the day the newly elected public representatives were taking oath of their office," the PTI spokesperson told NBC News.

Obama vowed last week to reduce drone strikes in Pakistan. His announcement was widely welcomed by the militancy-affected tribespeople of North and South Waziristan, where the drone strikes had mostly been carried out during the past 10 years.

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