ISLAMABAD (AFP) – The deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, the militant group said in a statement Monday, as Washington continues to intensify attacks along the Afghan border region.
Khalid Mehsood, deputy leader of the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, died after the pre-dawn strike in North Waziristan tribal agency on February 8, the militants said in the emailed statement.
The group’s leaders have nominated Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud to take his place, the statement said, adding Mehsud has “undeterring trust” in Pakistani Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.
U.S. officials in Islamabad had no immediate comment. Much of the border with Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas is off-limits to foreign journalists, and strikes along the porous frontier are difficult to verify.
The statement comes as the U.S. has massively stepped up its air offensive in eastern Afghanistan, targeting Taliban drug labs and Islamic State hideouts as President Donald Trump looks to the sky to force the insurgents to the table.
But militants have reacted violently, launching a wave of deadly attacks across the war-torn country, including in Kabul, in a devastating display of defiance.
Officials admit the U.S. strategy is not without risk, and the longer it runs the more costs will accrue.
More bombing almost invariably means more civilian casualties, which could further mobilise Afghans against the United States.