Mullah Fazlullah is in Pakistan, spokesman claims
The top spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) said that Mullah Fazlullah, the newly minted emir of the group, is no longer operating in Afghanistan and is now in Pakistan's tribal areas. The spokesman denied that Fazlullah is in North or South Waziristan, where the TTP's leadership cadre has been based in the past. From AFP:
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Fazlullah was now "commanding the Taliban movement at an unknown location in the tribal areas".
The TTP and other militants have strongholds in the seven semi-autonomous tribal areas along the country's rugged, porous border with Afghanistan.
Shahid's comments came after some local TV channels reported that Fazlullah had reached Waziristan.
"It is not true that Maulana Fazlullah is in Waziristan, he is in the tribal areas but at an unknown location," Shahid told AFP.
Fazlullah's base of support is rooted in the northern tribal area of Bajaur as well as in the settled districts of Swat, Dir, Shangla, Buner, and Malakand. Fazlullah openly controlled this area from 2007 to 2009 after the Pakistani government cut a "peace deal" with him. If Shahid is to be believed and Fazlullah is not in Waziristan, then he is most likely based in Dir. Fazlullah's forces, often numbering in the hundreds, have attacked Pakistani border outposts in Dir several times over the past few years.
If the US wants to take out Fazlullah out with a drone strike, like his predecessor Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was killed on Nov. 1, the CIA will have to stray far outside of the Waziristan kill box, where 95 percent of the strikes have taken place since 2004. Of the remaining strikes, there have been three in Bajaur, two in Arakzai, four in Kurram, and five in Khyber, all Pakistani tribal areas.
The US has rarely strayed outside of the tribal areas to go after a high-value target. Only four strikes have taken place outside of the tribal areas; three were in the district of Bannu and one more was in Hangu.
The US drones have struck outside the tribal areas recently, however. On Nov. 21, a US strike in Hangu killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top leader in the Haqqani Network, and two other senior commanders.