A US drone strike has killed Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, security and insurgent sources say, dealing a major blow to the militant network and casting doubt over proposed peace talks.
Mehsud's death on Friday is likely to prompt revenge attacks by the Taliban and disrupt government efforts to begin negotiations, analysts said, but will also seriously weaken an outfit that has become one of the greatest security threats to Pakistan.
It also represents a success for the CIA's drone program targeting suspected militants in Pakistan's tribal belt at a time when it is under intense scrutiny over civilian casualties.
Mehsud, who had a $US5 million ($A5.3 million) US government bounty on him, died along with three others when a US drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in a compound in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, 5km north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, officials said.
North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border, which Washington considers to be a major hub of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.
Security and intelligence officials confirmed the death while a senior Taliban source said Mehsud, who was thought to be aged 34, was killed along with his bodyguard, driver and uncle. Another Taliban commander said the funeral will be held on Saturday.
It is the second significant blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a month, following the capture of another senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.
Security expert Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP it was unclear whether the TTP has anyone in its ranks capable of filling the gap left by the charismatic Mehsud.
"His death will weaken the movement. Although they will soon appoint a new chief it is to be seen how effective the new person will be in controlling things," Yusufzai said.
"They will certainly try to take revenge and in this process, they will harm themselves and will cause problems for the government also."
After a bloody six-year TTP insurgency which has left thousands of soldiers, police and civilians dead, the government has been edging towards talks with the militants.
Mehsud's death came just a day after the government said the "process of dialogue" with the Taliban had started but no formal talks had taken place. The militants said they had had no contact from the government.
Saifullah Khan Mehsud of Islamabad's FATA Research Center, an expert on Pakistan's tribal belt, said the killing of the Taliban commander would disrupt the peace process in the short term but could ultimately prove beneficial."Hakimullah was a very divisive figure, a very hated figure, a very controversial figure - he was the one who represents in the eye of the Pakistani public everything that is evil about TTP," he told AFP.