In what security officials are calling a “huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents,” Wali-ur-Rehman, successor to current Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a drone in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan. The strike is believed to have killed Rehman, his aid, two unknown Uzbek nationals, and three more people who may have been civilians.
The Taliban and Al-Qaeda No. 2s have been called “the easiest kill in terrorism.” The U.S. has captured or killed seven Al-Qaeda “number twos” since 2006, and even killed the same Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) No. 2 three times. Comparisons drawn between terrorist No. 2s and the drummer in Spinal Tap seem quite appropriate,
This is the first strike since the May 11 Pakistani general election and the first since President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech last week, in which he said he would impose a higher standard on authorizing aerial attacks and shift responsibility for the drone program more from the CIA to the military. The president said that drone strikes are only authorized when capture is not a feasible option, as is the case in regions like South Waziristan. The Waziristan regions lie on the Afghan border and are the stronghold for Taliban militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Al-Qaeda.
Echoing concerns over the long-term costs of drone strikes that the president raised in his speech, the Pakistani foreign ministry denounced the drone strike: "The government has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law," it said.
Despite these concerns, support for using drones in the targeted killing of terrorists is very strong here in the U.S. – 79% of Republicans approve, as well as 64% of Democrats and 71% of independents.