ISLAMABAD -- Missiles from a CIA drone killed a Pakistani Taliban leader Wednesday who was carrying a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, Pakistani security officials said, an indication that the Obama administration and the Pakistani military still are cooperating on the top-secret U.S. targeted killing program.
The strike against Waliur Rehman Mehsud was the first in Pakistan since President Barack Obama outlined tighter rules for the controversial targeted killing program in a speech last week, and some experts questioned whether the criteria used to target him conformed to the president’s pledges of greater accountability and transparency.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to confirm a U.S. hand in Mehsud’s death. But he contended that Mehsud “has participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO personnel and horrific attacks against Pakistani civilians and soldiers.”
Carney noted that Mehsud also was wanted in connection with a Dec. 30, 2009, suicide bombing at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven Americans working for the CIA and a Jordanian intelligence officer. Since 2010, the Justice Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Mehsud.
“While we are not in the position to confirm the reports of Waliur Rehman’s death, if those reports were true or prove to be true, it’s worth noting that his demise would deprive the TTP of its second in command and chief military strategist,” said Carney, using the initials for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the loose amalgam of groups that compose the Pakistani Taliban.
Mehsud and three other militants died when two missiles leveled a mud-brick house in Chashma, a village outside Miran Shah, the administrative center for the North Waziristan tribal agency, according to Pakistani security officials, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Four other people were wounded.
North Waziristan borders eastern Afghanistan and is a haven for al Qaida, Pakistani Islamists, and Afghan and other foreign extremists. About half is controlled by the Pakistani Taliban, who’ve killed thousands of people since they launched an insurgency in 2007 in an effort to replace Pakistan’s secular government with Islamic rule.
Although officially designated the No. 2, Mehsud in practice has been the chief since December, when the leadership council effectively fired its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, for ordering the assassination of another senior commander. Hakimullah Mehsud has since led his own, more radical faction.
Waliur Rehman Mehsud’s death “will create a crisis of leadership because there is no obvious successor, and Hakim is in no position to make a comeback,” said Mansur Khan, the director of research at the FATA Research Center, an independent policy institute in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concerns” over Wednesday’s strike, contending that it violated the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.
Pakistan has routinely condemned the CIA strikes. It says that at least 2,200 people, including as many as 600 civilians, have died in some 330 such attacks since 2004.
Yet Waliur Rehman’s death suggests that the CIA and the powerful Pakistani army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are continuing to cooperate on drone operations against the Pakistani Taliban that date to 2004.