A senior Pakistani militant commander has been appointed to succeed warlord Mullah Nazir, who orchestrated attacks in Afghanistan until his death in a U.S. drone strike, officials said Friday.
Nazir, killed late Wednesday and buried Thursday, was the main militant commander in the tribal district of South Waziristan, where he plotted attacks on U.S. and NATO troops and reportedly sheltered al-Qaeda operatives.
Two of his deputies were killed with him, but a close associate and militant commander who goes by the name Salahuddin Ayubi has been anointed his successor, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
“Ayubi, whose real name is Bahawal Khan, was appointed as top commander of the group after Nazir’s funeral,” one of the officials told AFP.
He said that Ayubi, who belonged to Nazir’s Kaka Khel sub-division of the main Wazir tribe, had been very close to Nazir for more than 16 years.
Another official described Ayubi as being in his mid-30s, well-built and well-respected among his tribesmen and the group.
Taj Wazir, from the Tuji Khel tribe, was appointed deputy after Rafey Khan was also killed in Wednesday’s drone strike.
Ain Ullah, a local commander in the group, confirmed the appointments.
Nazir sent insurgents into Afghanistan to wage war on NATO-led troops and operated out of South Waziristan, on the Afghan border.
The Pentagon could not confirm Nazir’s death but said it would be a “significant blow” and helpful to the United States and its Pakistani partners.
But some intelligence officials in the northwest fear that Nazir’s death could help Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Uzbek militants sneak back into South Waziristan.
Nazir had a peace deal with Islamabad, which congratulated him for expelling Uzbeks
from South Waziristan, but had testy relations with local Taliban.
“It was almost impossible for the TTP and Uzbek militants to penetrate deep into the region as long as Nazir remained present there,” one of the officials said, explaining that he enjoyed full support from tribesmen.