Maulvi Nazir Wazir, also known as Mullah Nazir, was killed on Wednesday night when missiles struck a house in Angoor Adda, near the capital of Wana, South Waziristan, near the Afghan border, intelligence sources and residents said.
His deputy, Ratta Khan, was also killed, sources said.
Nazir favored attacking American forces in Afghanistan rather than Pakistani soldiers in Pakistan, a position that put him at odds with some other Pakistan Taliban commanders but earned him a reputation as a “good” Taliban among some in the Pakistan military.
The military has a large base in Wana, where Nazir and his men were based. Residents said the main market in Wana shut down on Thursday to mark Nazir’s death.
Nazir was wounded there in a bombing in November, widely believed to be a result of his rivalries with other Taliban commanders. Six others were killed in the same bombing.
Both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban draw support from ethnic Pashtuns, who live on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Rivalry between militant factions often reflects old rivalries between Pashtun tribes.
Shortly after the bombing, Nazir’s Wazir tribe told the Mehsud tribe, related to Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, to leave the area. Hakimullah Mehsud’s men frequently target the Pakistani army.
The army, an uneasy ally of the United States, has clawed back territory from the Taliban since launching a military offensive in 2009.
But senior U.S. officials have frequently said that some elements within Pakistan’s security services retain ties to some Taliban commanders.
Intensified U.S. drone strikes have killed many senior Taliban leaders, including Mehsud’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, in 2009.
Drone strikes have dramatically increased since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. There were only five drone strikes in 2007. The number of strikes peaked at 117 in 2010 and climbed down to 46 last year.
Data collected from news reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism say that between 2,600-3,404 Pakistanis have been killed by drones, of which 473-889 were reported to be civilians.
Rights groups say that some residents are so afraid of the strikes they don’t want to leave their homes.
It is difficult to verify civilian casualties because foreign journalists must have permission from the military to visit the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Taliban fighters also often seal off the sites of drone strikes immediately so Pakistani journalists cannot see the victims.
Some Pakistanis say the drone strikes are an infringement of their national sovereignty and have called for them to stop.
Others, including some residents of the tribal areas, say they are killing Taliban commanders who have terrorized the local population.
The continuing insecurity is likely to be a key issue in elections scheduled for this spring. The nuclear-armed nation of 180 million has a history of military coups, but these polls should mark the first time one elected civilian government gets to hand power to another.