ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone strike in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan killed at least six people, Pakistani government officials said Thursday, including the powerful Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir Wazir.
Nazir was killed along with another key commander of his group, Rapa Khan, and four other militants in the missile strike late Wednesday on Nazir’s vehicle near Wana, the largest town in the South Waziristan area, said a local government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
“Mullah Nazir was going in a car from Birmal village to Wana when his vehicle was hit by the drone strike,” the official said. He said all six militants who were killed were in the car.
Some Pakistani news channels, quoting local administration officials, put the death toll at nine. One such report also said the drone strike that killed Nazir struck a house near Wana where he and other militants were present.
A Pakistani intelligence official in the area confirmed the reports of Nazir’s killing. However, the Taliban group led by Nazir did not confirm or deny his death, and the Pakistani government made no official confirmation.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said that he could not confirm the reports about Nazir’s death, but added that it would be a “major development,” if corroborated.
“As a general matter, any time a bad guy has a bad day, that’s a good day for us,” he told reporters Thursday morning. “If the reports are true, then this would be a significant blow and would be very helpful not just to the United States, but to our Pakistani partners and the Afghans.”
Little added that Nazir “has a great deal of blood on his hands.”
Nazir opposed attacks on Pakistani army troops but supported assaults on U.S. and other Western troops in neighboring Afghanistan. His stance reflected serious differences with some other Taliban commanders, who believe that Pakistan, a close ally of the United States, must also be targeted.
Nazir was accused of sending his fellow fighters on a regular basis to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban against the U.S.-led NATO forces. He was wounded in a suicide bombing in November last year that was thought to have been carried out by rival militant commanders.
After the attack, Nazir ordered the Mehsud tribe to leave Wana and other nearby regions that were under his control.
A separate drone strike, also carried out late Wednesday in the adjoining tribal region of North Waziristan, killed three militants, a local official said, including commander Faisal Khan of the Pakistani Taliban.
“Two Uzbeki militants were also killed with commander Faisal in the drone strike that was carried out on a car in Mir Ali village of North Waziristan,” said the government official in the restive tribal region. Like the officials in South Waziristan, he asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Ernesto Londoño in Washington contributed to this report.