Episode 25 of the Bureau’s podcast Drone News.
Will death of Maulvi Nazir (seated centre) improve regional security? (Photo: Press Association)
A CIA drone strike has killed Maulvi Nazir, a senior militant leader, in a significant blow to the Taliban. There are fears that his death may spark a fresh outbreak of terrorist violence across Pakistan.
The January 2 missile strike, at 1030pm local time, killed Nazir and his two deputies Atta Ullah and Rafey Khan, along with up to eight others.
According to the New York Times, Maulvi Nazir’s vehicle was struck as it traveled on the Birmal-Wana road. A senior Pakistani intelligence official told the paper: ‘He has been killed. It is confirmed. The vehicle he was traveling in was hit.’
However other sources including the Guardian said that Nazir died when a house was struck during a meeting of senior leaders.
Mosques in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, announced the death of the popular leader over loudspeakers, and as many as 10,000 people reportedly attended Nazir’s funeral the next day, local sources told AP.
In a separate attack, drones also killed a local Pakistan Taliban (TTP) commander and up to three others in North Waziristan. Both CNN and Associated Press reported that the CIA targeted rescuers at the scene.
Maulvi (or Mullah) Nazir, based in the border areas of South Waziristan, was a a key figure in the so-called ‘Good Taliban’ – militant groups which have truce arrangements with Pakistan’s military and government.
These groups also use Pakistani territory to launch attacks on US, Nato and Afghan forces across the border. A study by Dr Antonio Giustozzo found that Taliban attacks in Afghanistan rose by up to a third after local peace deals were signed.
The Bureau recorded seven strikes against Nazir’s forces in South Waziristan in 2012, out of 47 CIA attacks in Pakistan.
While a tactical success for the US, some are predicting that Nazir’s death might increase instability and violence in the region, at least initially.
Maulvi Nazir, a key leader of the powerful Wazir tribe, rose to prominence in 2007 when he drove out foreign militants and the Pakistan Taliban (drawn mainly from the Mehsud tribe) from his area.
Retired brigadier Asad Munir, who commanded Pakistan’s intelligence service the ISI in the tribal areas until 2005, told the Bureau: ‘Pakistan’s army can’t fight both the Mehsud and Wazir tribes. When fighting one there needs to be peace with the other. There was no written treaty between Islamabad and the Wazir tribe – just a verbal agreement with Nazir himself.
‘The worst case scenario is that the Wazirs and other “good Taliban” groups will start a fresh wave of terrorist activities which Pakistan may not be able to handle.’
AFP reported that senior Pakistani security officials were already locked in talks to discuss the implications of Nazir’s death.
In a second CIA strike in North Waziristan on January 3, local Pakistan Taliban commander Faisal Khan was reported killed in his car along with two ‘Uzbek militants.’
According to Associated Press, ‘one missile hit a vehicle near the town, followed by another missile when people rushed to the vehicle to help people in the car.’ CNN also reported that US drones targeted rescuers.
The deliberate targeting of first responders by the CIA is controversial, and is presently being investigated by UN experts as a possible war crime.
‘Alice in Wonderland’
On the same day as Nazir’s death a US court rejected a Freedom of Information request by the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calling for the US government to reveal the legal basis of covert drone strikes.
US District Court Judge Colleen McMahon said in a written statement that an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ situation presently exists in which the US can claim such strikes to be legal, while keeping secret the basis for such claims:
I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.
Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, said the organisation planned to appeal the decision.
‘This ruling denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of US citizens and also effectively green-lights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures,’ he said.
Episode 25 of the Bureau’s podcast Drone News.
Drones have hit targets in Afghanistan since 2001 yet almost nothing is known about where those attacks took place, or who they killed.
A UK drone operator speaks exclusively to the Bureau.