Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir killed 'in drone attack'

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says Mullah Nazir's death has created a "power vacuum"

Senior Pakistani militant leader Mullah Nazir has been killed by a US drone strike, security officials say.

He died with at least five fighters when two missiles struck his vehicle in the north-west tribal district of South Waziristan.

He was leader of one of four major militant factions in Pakistan and was accused of sending fighters to Afghanistan in support of the Taliban.

Mullah Nazir is one of the most high-profile insurgents killed by drones.

He had survived several attempts to kill him, including a suicide bomb attack blamed on rival militants in November.

He and his fighters were reportedly hit by the missiles on Wednesday while preparing to change vehicles.

Analysis

Mullah Nazir headed one of the three major Taliban groups in the Waziristan region that have had peaceful relations with the Pakistani military - the other two being the Haqqani network and the group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur. As such, his death is likely to upset the crucial strategic balance in the region which the Pakistani forces have worked hard to maintain.

These forces actually boosted Mullah Nazir as a leader in the Wana region in 2007 when they helped him evict ethnic Uzbek fighters and also overcome an intra-tribal power struggle.

But for the Americans, he is a prized catch. Ever since he assumed control of the Taliban movement in Wana, he has focused on the war in Afghanistan, training and sending fighters to engage Western troops there, particularly in the south east.

In 2009-10, he facilitated the deployment of a large number of the so-called "Punjabi" Taliban of Pakistani origin inside Afghan territory, apparently to beef up the Taliban's strike ability in the wake of the looming drawdown of Western troops.

His pick-up truck had apparently developed a fault in Angoor Adda, near South Waziristan's main town of Wana.

Reports say Mullah Nazir's deputy, Ratta Khan, was also killed in the attack.

Officials also said four militants were killed in a separate attack in North Waziristan, but their identities are not known.

'Significant blow'

Local residents were quoted as saying that they had heard on mosque loudspeakers announcements that Mullah Nazir was dead. Funeral prayers were said for him.

Mullah Nazir's group is one of several militant factions operating in Pakistan's restive north-west - in recent years there have been divisions among these groups.

Analysts say Mullah Nazir formed an alliance with the government and opposed the Pakistani Taliban, with whom he was at odds because he favoured attacking US forces in Afghanistan rather than Pakistani soldiers.

After November's attack on him, his faction told a rival group led by Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, to leave the Wana area.

Reports say he was also seen as an enemy of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and praised by Pakistan for expelling Uzbek and other foreign fighters from Pakistan in 2007.

Key Pakistani militant leaders

Leader Details Status
Mullah Nazir

Mullah Nazir

Leader of one of the four major militant groups in Pakistan's north-west. His domain was the Ahmedzai-Wazir tribal area of South Waziristan on the Afghan border

Dead - killed in a US drone strike in January 2013

Hakimullah Mehsud

Hakimullah Mehsud

Leader of Pakistan's main militant faction, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is blamed for dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks inside the country

Alive

Man's silhouette

Hafiz Gul Bahadur

Veteran of the 1992-96 Afghan civil war, he later joined the Taliban. Based in North Waziristan, he has largely focused on the fighting in Afghanistan since a 2006 peace deal with Pakistani forces

Alive

Sirajuddin Haqqani

Sirajuddin Haqqani

Veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has long been based in North Waziristan, has stood aside to allow his son, Sirajuddin (pictured left), to lead the Haqqani group's anti-US offensive in the region

Alive

His death could be a contentious issue between Washington and Islamabad, they add, because the Pakistani military views commanders like him as key to keeping the peace internally.

For years, he was a key figure involved in supplying fighters and support to the Afghan insurgency, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad.

Militants killed by drones in Pakistan

  • January 2013: Senior Pakistani militant leader Mullah Nazir
  • June 2012: Senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi
  • February 2012: Al-Qaeda commander Badar Mansoor
  • August 2011: Al-Qaeda commander Atiyah Abd al-Rahman
  • June 2011: Senior al-Qaeda figure Ilyas Kashmiri
  • August 2009: Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud

Pentagon spokesman George Little said he could not confirm Nazir's death but added that, if true, it would be "a significant blow" to extremist groups in the region.

It would, he said, be helpful not only to the US and to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan because "this is someone who has a great deal of blood on his hands".

Drone strikes have increased in frequency since US President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Hundreds of people have been killed, stoking public anger in Pakistan.

The dead include senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, as well as an unknown number of other militants and civilians.

The US does not normally comment on individual drone operations, but last year it emerged in the New York Times that the US president had personally approved or vetoed each drone strike.

Islamabad has called for an end to the attacks saying they violate the country's sovereignty, but analysts say Pakistan has privately sanctioned such actions in the past.

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