Four missiles launched from a U.S. drone killed five militants in North Waziristan on Friday, including the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (“TTP”), Hakimullah Masud. Plenty of mistaken reports of Masud’s death have cropped up in the past, but the Taliban group itself, U.S. government officials, and the Pakistani government have now confirmed the militant’s death. Masud, who had a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S. government, was considered responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, and planned a deadly suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that killed five CIA employees, two contractors, and two foreign security personnel.
This week, Pakistan agreed to a resumption of peace talks with TTP; North Waziristan province, where Masud was killed, is de facto under the control of TTP-related Islamist militants and it’s not clear what the talks will produce. Interestingly, a key TTP commander, Latif Masud, was arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan earlier in October while on his way to negotiate some kind of prisoner swap with the Afghan government, which has been seen as the clearest indication yet that the Afghan central government is considering talks with TTP in anticipation of the drawdown of U.S. forces there. That would make an odd and unruly alliance: It means Karzai is trying to ally with TTP, which targets the Pakistani government, aims to destabilize places in the northwest of the country like North Waziristan, and is far from the main threat to the Afghans. Meanwhile, parts of the Pakistani government have long supported the Afghan Taliban, a wholly separate organization from TTP, because they believe a destabilized Afghanistan is in their interests.
U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have been controversial for a long time — the Pakistani government used to grant tacit approval to the operations, but now publicly condemns them and has repeatedly called for the U.S. to stop. This year, the Long War Journal has counted 25 such strikes in Pakistan this year, which represents a significant slowing in the pace of attacks.