(Photo: Reuters/Saud Mehsud/File)
A major U.S. drone strike in Pakistan on Wednesday killed seven people, including a man believed to be Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, who had been poised to succeed the leader of the terrorist militant group.
"This is a huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents," one security official shared with Reuters about the death of Wali-ur-Rehman.
Rehman was wanted by the U.S. government primarily for his involvement in an attack on a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009 that killed seven Americans. He is also believed to have participated in cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO personnel, and in 2010 the government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
"That the Taliban are remaining silent and neither denying or confirming the news is itself peculiar," added Saleem Safi, a Pakistani expert on the Taliban. "But if this news is true, then the Pakistan army has the U.S. to thank."
The strike occurred in the North Waziristan region, according to CBS News , and although Taliban officials are so far denying Rehman's death, Pakistani intelligence representatives have said that informants apparently saw Rehman's body, while intercepted communications between militants noted that he had been killed.
Reuters reported that drone casualties are often difficult to verify, as foreign journalists need permission from the military to visit the area.
The Pakistani Taliban is also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and has launched a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani military and civilians over the last few years. Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda who was killed in 2011, is said to have enjoyed protection from the Taliban in Pakistan over the years when he was hiding from the U.S. army for orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
President Barack Obama recently said that the U.S. will be scaling back is drone strike program, which has been questioned by a number of officials.
"It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars," Obama has said. "As commander in chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties."
The Foreign Ministry stated, "The government has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law."