PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A suspected U.S. drone strike killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban yesterday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, although the militant group denied he was dead.
If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a strong blow to the militant group responsible for hundreds of bombings and shootings across Pakistan. The United States has a $5 million bounty out on Rehman, whom Washington has accused of involvement in the 2009 suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans working for the CIA.
Missiles fired by a U.S. drone slammed into a house early yesterday in Miran Shah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal region, killing five people including Rehman, Pakistani officials said.
Two officials said their informants in the field saw Rehman's body, while a third said intelligence authorities had intercepted communications between militants saying Rehman had been killed.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied the reports.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to confirm if Rehman was dead. He said that if the reports were true Rehman's death would deprive the militant group of its chief military strategist involved in "horrific attacks" on a CIA base in Afghanistan and other attacks against Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
The missile attack was the first since Pakistan's May 11 elections in which the American drone program was a hotly debated topic.
It was also the first strike in Pakistan since President Barack Obama's speech last Thursday during which he discussed more restrictive rules he was implementing on drone use in places such as Pakistan and Yemen.
The tribal region in northwestern Pakistan is home to local and Afghan militant outfits, including al-Qaida-linked fighters. Washington has often criticized Pakistan, saying it does not vigorously target militants in these areas who then attack American troops in Afghanistan.
Rehman, believed to be 42 or 43, has been on the U.S. radar for years. The United States wanted Rehman in connection with his alleged involvement in an attack on a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009, that killed the Americans working for the CIA.