The Pakistani Taliban’s number two was killed in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials told Reuters news agency, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.
The drone strike killed seven people, the Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.
Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsudas leader of the Pakistan Taliban, a senior army official based in South Waziristan, said in December.
“This is a huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents,” one security official told Reuters, declining further comment.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they have launched devastating attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
According to reports from AFP news agency, the attack reportedly took place in Chashma village near Miranshah, the main town of lawless North Waziristan district, a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants along the Afghan border.
It was the first attack since historic May 11 general elections won by Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League.
Incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is preparing to take power in the first week of June, has called the drone strikes a "challenge" to his country's sovereignty and said Washington must take Pakistani concerns seriously.
According to Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism, CIA drone attacks targeting suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan have killed up to 3,587 people since 2004, including up to 884 civilians, AFP reported.
Islamabad on Friday repeated its view that U.S. drone strikes in its territory were illegal, after President Barack Obama laid out new guidelines for their use.
The U.S. president mounted a firm defense of his covert drone war as legal and just in a major speech on counterterrorism policy on Thursday but warned that undisciplined use of the tactic would invite abuses of power.
Obama said he had approved new guidelines stating that drone strikes could only be used to prevent imminent attacks and when the capture of a suspect was not feasible and if there was a "near certainty" that civilians would not be killed.