The Mullah Nazir Group, a Taliban faction in South Waziristan, has named a successor after its leader was killed in a US drone strike yesterday. The new emir of the group maintains close ties to al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and a host of terrorist groups operating in the Afghan-Pakistan region, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Additionally, US intelligence officials denied that the Pakistani government or military aided in the killing of Nazir.
The Taliban in South Waziristan have named Bahwal Khan, who is also known as Salahuddin Ayubi, to lead the Mullah Nazir Group after its emir, Mullah Nazir, was killed in a US drone strike. Nazir was killed along with two deputies, a military commander, and two associates in one of three drone strikes that took place in North and South Waziristan on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.
“The Shura of Mullah Nazir Taliban Group has agreed to, and appointed Bahwal Khan – known in the area as Ayubi – as the successor of Mullah Nazir,” a Taliban commander known as Eynollah Khan told The Express Tribune.
“Bahwal Khan will be the commander of the Mujahideen of Wana,” he continued, adding that Khan’s appointment to lead the Taliban in the Wazir areas of South Waziristan was supported by both tribal and religious leaders.
Another Taliban commander known as Ain Ullah told AFP that Khan was appointed to succeed Nazir, and that Taj Wazir was also named as Khan’s deputy. Wazir replaces Nazir’s deputy, Rafey Khan, who was also killed in the drone strike.
Khan allied with al Qaeda
Khan, who has served under Nazir for 16 years and who has waged jihad in Afghanistan, is closely allied with al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and a plethora of terrorist groups in the area, US intelligence officials who track groups in the region told The Long War Journal.
“Little will change with Khan’s appointment to lead Nazir’s faction of the Taliban,” one official said. “It will be business as usual, and we’ll continue to have to take shots at al Qaeda leaders and others in the Wazir areas” of South Waziristan, the official continued, referring to the drone strikes.
Of the 328 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004 that have been recorded by the Long War Journal, 52 have taken place in areas under Nazir’s control. Several top al Qaeda leaders have been killed in those areas.
Before he was killed, Nazir openly supported Taliban emir Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and waged jihad in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Asia Times in 2011, Nazir rejected claims that he opposed al Qaeda, and affirmed that he considered himself to be a member of the global terror organization.
Additionally, Nazir’s Taliban faction is one of four major Taliban groups that joined the Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance brokered by al Qaeda in late 2011. The Shura-e-Murakeba also includes Hafiz Gul Bahadar’s group; the Haqqani Network, a close al Qaeda ally; and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, another al Qaeda ally, which is led by Hakeemullah Mehsud and his deputy, Waliur Rehman Mehsud. The members of the Shura-e-Murakeba agreed to cease attacks against Pakistani security forces, refocus efforts against the US in Afghanistan, and end kidnappings and other criminal activities in the tribal areas.
No cooperation from the Pakistanis
US intelligence officials also denied reports that the Pakistani military and government aided in the assassination of Nazir, and said the Pakistanis are upset over the killing.
“These reports [that Pakistan aided in Nazir’s death] are preposterous,” one US intelligence official involved in the targeting of al Qaeda and other terrorist leaders in Pakistan told The Long War Journal.
“Nazir was an asset to and a tool of the Pakistani state,” the official continued, noting that Nazir did not countenance attacks in Pakistan but advocated that the Taliban fight the US in Afghanistan.
“If the Pakistanis wanted to remove Nazir from the playing field, they could have easily done so,” another intelligence official observed. “There is a garrison in Wana, where Nazir operates. He conducts business in the open and often meets with tribal leaders.”
Nazir has long been described by Pakistani officials as a “good Taliban leader” for just those reasons. The government and military signed several peace agreements with Nazir that allowed him to rule over the Wazir areas of South Waziristan.
“The Pakistanis are piqued that we’ve killed Nazir,” another official stated. “We just knocked off a good Taliban, or to them, perhaps the best Taliban.”