PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Two U.S. drone strikes on northwest Pakistan killed a senior Taliban commander who fought American forces in Afghanistan but had a truce with the Pakistani military, intelligence officials said Thursday.
The commander, Maulvi Nazir, was among nine people killed in a missile strike on a house in the village of Angoor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan late Wednesday, five Pakistani security officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
At least four people were killed in a separate drone strike Thursday morning near Mir Ali, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region.
America’s use of drones against militants in Pakistan has increased substantially under President Obama, and the program has killed a number of top militant commanders over the past year.
But the drone strikes are extremely contentious in Pakistan and seen as an infringement on the country’s sovereignty. While the U.S. maintains that it targets militants, many Pakistanis complain that innocent civilians also have been killed.
Nazir’s killing could cause even more friction in the already tense relations between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan is believed to have struck a nonaggression pact with Nazir ahead of its 2009 military operation against militants in South Waziristan.
But many in Pakistan’s military viewed Nazir and militant chiefs like him as “good Taliban,” meaning they focus attacks only on foreign forces in Afghanistan, keeping domestic peace by not attacking Pakistani targets.
Nazir outraged many Pakistanis in June, when he announced that he would not allow any polio vaccinations in territory under his control until the U.S. stops drone attacks in the region.
Pakistan is one of three countries where polio is still endemic. Nine workers helping in anti-polio-vaccination campaigns were killed last month by militant gunmen, and the killings this week of five female teachers and two aid workers also may have been linked to their work on the polio campaigns.
Residents in Angoor Adda and Wana, the biggest town in South Waziristan, said mosque loudspeakers announced Nazir’s death.
One resident, Ajaz Khan, said 5,000 to 10,000 people attended the funeral of Nazir and six other people in Angoor Adda.
Reports of individual deaths in such cases are often difficult to independently verify. Pakistani and foreign journalists have a hard time traveling to the remote areas where many of these strikes occur, and the U.S. rarely comments on its secretive drone program.
Nazir was active in many parts of Afghanistan and had close ties with Arab members of al Qaeda as well as the Afghan Taliban, said Mansur Mahsud, the head of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Center, which studies the tribal regions.
“His death is a great blow to the Afghan Taliban,” he said.