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U.S. Drone Strike Said To Have Killed Taliban Leader


Another big piece of President Obama's new national security vision is a rethinking of how the U.S. uses drones. Last night, for the first time since the president laid out new stricter conditions for their use, the U.S. launched a drone attack. It appears to have killed a top military commander in the Pakistani Taliban. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Less than a week ago, President Obama said the U.S. would only use drones against individuals who pose an imminent threat to the United States. He said the administration was tightening its targeting standards, but the president had this caveat.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In the Afghan War theater, we must and will continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. And that means we will continue to take strikes against high-value al-Qaida targets, but also against forces that are amassing to support attacks on coalition forces.

TEMPLE-RASTON: According to U.S. officials, last night's drone strike in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan took place inside the Afghan War theater, and the man in the crosshairs - his name is Waliur Rehman - was considered a threat to U.S. forces. A member of the Pakistani Taliban, he participated in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan against U.S. and NATO personnel.

KENNETH ANDERSON: I'm not sure that this strike would actually be considered by the United States government to be covered by the new rules.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kenneth Anderson focuses on national security law at American University and is a fellow at the Hoover Institution.

ANDERSON: Especially for a commander like this whose involvement with cross-border forces going into Afghanistan to engage with U.S. and Afghan government troops I suspect might very well be considered to not be what these guidelines are about.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Anderson said he probably could have been targeted under the president's new guidelines as well. Intelligence officials believe he helped plan an attack on a U.S. base in Khost in 2009. Seven Americans working for the CIA died in that attack.

Details about last night's strike are still sketchy. The missiles were fired at a house in Miranshah, in Pakistan's tribal regions, an area that has been an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold. Three other people were killed. And there are also reports on Pakistani television that three children were injured in the attack.

President Obama vowed last week that U.S. drone strikes would only be approved if there was a near certainty that there would be no civilian casualties. So this strike might have run afoul of that standard. The Pakistani government, for its part, condemned the attack.

But there's something they're not saying. If this Taliban commander was indeed killed, an arch enemy of the Pakistani government has been taken off the field of battle. The Pakistani Taliban, for its part, has denied he's dead, and U.S. officials say they're waiting for confirmation. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.