Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Killing of Taliban militant big 'blow'

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- An American drone strike in Pakistan has killed a top Taliban commander who sent money and fighters to battle the U.S. in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, officials said Thursday.

The death of Maulvi Nazir is likely to be seen in Washington as affirmation of the necessity of the controversial U.S. drone program. It is likely to be viewed in a different light by military officials in Pakistan, however, because Nazir did not focus on Pakistani targets.

Nazir was killed when two missiles slammed into a house in a village in South Waziristan while he was meeting with supporters and fellow commanders. Eight other people were killed, according to five Pakistani security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The U.S. rarely comments on its secretive drone program, and Pentagon spokesman George Little said he could not confirm Nazir's death, but he added that if true, it would be "a significant blow" to extremist groups in the region.

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

At least four people were killed in a separate drone strike Thursday in the North Waziristan tribal region.

America's use of drones against militants in Pakistan has increased substantially under U.S. President Barack Obama, and the program killed a number of top militants in the past year.

But the drone strikes infuriate many Pakistanis who see them as a violation of their country's sovereignty. Many Pakistanis complain innocent civilians have also been killed, something the U.S. rejects.

Nazir's killing could cause even more friction in the already-tense relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

A Pakistani official said while his government continues to object to the drone strikes, it does not object to removing Nazir from the battlefield, because despite his reported co-operation with the Pakistani government, he was suspected to have aided groups who attack Pakistani troops. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

As many as 10,000 people attended Nazir's funeral in the town of Angoor Adda, where the strike happened. One resident who was there, Ahmed Yar, said Nazir's body was badly burned and his face was unrecognizable.

Nazir was active in many parts of Afghanistan and had close ties with the Afghan Taliban, said Mansur Mahsud, the head of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Centre, which studies the tribal regions.

"His death is a great blow to the Afghan Taliban," he said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2013 A16

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