PESHAWAR: Senior Pakistani military authorities based in South Waziristan Agency are still reluctant to confirm the death of veteran militant commander, Ilyas Kashmiri, reportedly killed in a US drone strike on June 4 last year near Wana town in South Waziristan.
However, Pakistani Taliban, particularly those considered close to the dreaded militant leader, claimed he sustained injuries but survived in the first drone attack at Shokai Narray village near the main towns of Karikot and Ghwakhwa on June 4, 2011.
However, they said he died a week later in another missile strike by the CIA-operated spy plane at Danna village in Azam Warsak village near Wana.
Senior Taliban commanders of Maulvi Nazeer group operating in South Waziristan said Ilyas Kashmiri come a few days before of his death to Wana from Mir Ali in North Waziristan on the advice of his militant friends due to frequent drone attacks there in which he had lost a number of his fighters.
They said Ilyas Kashmiri held a meeting with Maulvi Nazeer in Wana and then left for Azam Warsak where the Punjabi Taliban had their camps when they came under attack at Shokai Narray on June 4. He suffered injuries while the other 12 people, including members of the Punjabi Taliban and some belonging to the Ahmadzai Wazir and Afridi tribes, were killed.
Kashmiri, they added, was first taken to a private health facility in Wana and then shifted to Azam Warsak, where he was residing with his fighters in an old house where Afghan refugees once lived at Danna village.
“He had spent almost a week at a mud-house in Danna village to recover from his wounds suffered in the first drone attack when the drone fired two missiles and hit the same house in which Kashmiri was staying. He was killed along with four to five other people, all hailing from Punjab,” recalled a senior Taliban commander of Maulvi Nazeer group.
Pleading anonymity, he said Kashmiri was laid to rest in Azam Warsak but a limited number of people attended his funeral prayer.
Asked why Taliban, particularly those close to Ilyas Kashmiri had claimed he was killed in the first drone attack, one of the Taliban commanders argued it was possible they did not know at that time of the attack that he survived the first drone strike.
Abu Yahya, a Punjabi militant commander who claimed to have spent much of his time in the company of Ilyas Kashmiri in Kashmir to fight the Indian forces and later in North Waziristan from where they crossed the border into Afghanistan and attack the Nato and Afghan forces, claimed Kashmiri was killed in the drone attack in South Waziristan.
Abu Yahya, wanted to Pakistani security agencies and believed to be operating in southern Punjab, said he had received Kashmiri’s bloodstained shirt with a piece of paper carrying directives from the top leadership to cut the shirt into pieces for distribution among the senior people of his organisation, Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI).
“For sometime I did not believe his death in the drone attack, but I was convinced that he was dead later when some of our people returned from Wana and brought his shirt along for me,” Abu Yahya explained.
When reminded why the militants unlike the past were in such a hurry to confirm his death, he argued their group never concealed the loss of their people who die in action.
Another prominent figure of the TTP also confirmed that Kashmiri was killed in the drone strike in South Waziristan.
He said Kashmiri was considered the master trainer among the militant groups operating in the tribal areas. “He was a veteran commander. I remember he once gave a lecture how to avoid losses in the drone attacks. He directed all of us to display dresses of women and children on the ripes in our camps and also put some items in the courtyards so that those operating the drones consider their hideouts as houses where women and children were residing,” the local Taliban leader belonging to the Mahsud tribe recalled. He said Kashmiri’s advice later proved very helpful and they remained safe in a number of drone strikes taking place in their neighbourhood.
However, Pakistani authorities in Wana are still unsure about his death in the drone attack.
“We on our own level did some investigations but could not find any clue that could prove his death in the drone attack. We knew that he had arrived in Wana a few days before the June 4 drone attack,” a top Pakistan Army official said on condition of anonymity.