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Pakistani Taliban call off peace talks after commander killed by drone

ISLAMABAD, May 31 (UPI) — The Pakistani Taliban said Thursday there would be no peace talks with the country’s incoming leaders after a top commander was killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the prospects for peace talks were “terminated” as a result of the Wednesday drone strike he confirmed killed the group’s deputy leader, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“The government is killing our leadership in collusion with the U.S. And yet it speaks of peace talks,” Ehsan said.

The militant group vowed to avenge the leader’s death and charged the Pakistani government approved the U.S. drone attacks.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she couldn’t provide independent confirmation of Rehman’s death, the newspaper said.

Nawaz Sharif, who won in Pakistan’s elections this month and is to take office as prime minister within days, has said he wants to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban. He also has said he opposes the American drone strikes.

Rehman was believed to be 42 years old.

CNN, citing sources, said the drone strike targeting a compound near Miranshah in North Waziristan, a militant stronghold, also killed Rehman’s aide, Fakhar-ul-Islam, and two unidentified Uzbek nationals.

The New York Times and the BBC, as well as other media, also reported Rehman’s death, citing sources.

In Washington Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney, in his daily media briefing, would not confirm the reports but added if proved right “it’s worth noting that his demise would deprive” the TTP of its second in command and chief military strategist.

Carney said Rehman has participated in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO personnel and “horrific attacks” against Pakistani civilians and soldiers.

“And he is wanted in connection to the murder of seven American citizens on Dec. 30, 2009, at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.”

Rehman has been a top Pakistan Taliban member since 2005 and was a spokesman for the group’s former leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone strike in 2009. The TTP is now led by Hakimullah Mehsud.

The BBC said Rehman had been reported to have died in two previous drone strikes.

The New York Times said the volume and variety of official and militant sources, however, suggested that Rehman had been killed.

The BBC said Rehman led a faction of the TTP that is linked the with the Haqqani network militant group, which uses its North Waziristan base to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Violence spearheaded by the TTP has killed thousands of Pakistanis and the latest drone strike against the group may be welcomed by Pakistani officials, the report said.

Last week in a major speech on counter-terrorism, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new drone policy to limit civilian casualties, although the program has been a major factor in crippling al-Qaida and other militants. Pakistanis have opposed the program, saying it is a violation of their sovereignty that only helps fan anti-American sentiments.

Carney in his comments reminded Obama in his speech had said in the Afghan war theater there must be support to U.S. troops until the combat operations cease by the end of 2014.

“And that means we will continue to take strikes against high-value al-Qaida targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces,” Carney said.

“By the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection and the progress we have made against core al-Qaida will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.”

Pakistan’s The News International said Rehman’s death, if confirmed, would be a “huge loss to the already cornered militants engaged in a war against the Pakistani state.” The report said he was the head of the TTP’s most powerful South Waziristan chapter.

The report said after Baitullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain, a TTP commander known as the mentor of suicide bombers, Rehman is the group’s third top leader to die in a U.S. attack on Pakistani soil.

“Personally, he was not in favor of suicide attacks in Pakistan. He always supported peace talks between the government and Taliban. I am worried after his death as bloodshed could again start in the country,” Malik Mahsud Ahmad, a noted tribal elder, told The News International.

The New York Times said there have been about 360 drone strikes by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Pakistan since 2004, but there has been a significant drop in such strike this year as the program was being assessed in the United States.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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