ISLAMABAD - A CIA drone strike in Pakistan may have killed the operational commander of the Haqqani network, the insurgent group believed to be behind some of the most high-profile attacks on Western and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan, Pakistani intelligence officials and militant sources said on Saturday.
The officials said Badruddin Haqqani, who is also believed to handle the network’s vital business interests and smuggling operations, may have been killed during a drone strike this week in Pakistan’s tribal North Waziristan region.
“Our informers have told us that he has been killed in the drone attack on Tuesday (August 21) but we cannot confirm it,” said one of the Pakistani intelligence officials. “We are 90 percent sure that he was in the same house which was attacked with a drone on Tuesday,” said another Pakistani intelligence official.
Sources close to the Haqqqani network also said Badruddin was believed to be in the house, hit by a drone strike as militants were planting explosives in a vehicle meant to be used for an attack on Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and tribal sources also said they believed Badruddin was killed in the drone attack. “The drone fired two missiles on the house last Tuesday and killed 25 people, most of them members of the Haqqani family,” one of the sources said.
But one of Badruddin’s relatives said he was alive and busy with his “jihad activities”. “Such claims are baseless,” he told Reuters. If Badruddin’s death is confirmed, it could deal a major blow to the Haqqani network, one of the United States’ most feared enemies in Afghanistan, where it is allied with the Taliban.
A series of drone strikes in North Waziristan this week suggest the CIA, which remotely operates the aircraft, was after a high-value militant target in the unruly area. But the deaths of militants in such strikes are difficult to confirm because they often occur in remote areas of regions in the northwest like North Waziristan that are hard for authorities to reach.
US officials blame the Qaeda-linked network for some of the boldest attacks in Afghanistan, including one on embassies and parliament in Kabul in April which lasted 18 hours, killing 11 Afghan security forces and four civilians. Militant groups from Afghanistan and Pakistan have formed alliances and often cross the porous border for operations.
The US accuses Pakistan’s intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its arch-rival India in the country. But Pakistan vigorously denies the allegations and blames Afghanistan and Isaf of allowing anti-Pakistan Taliban factions to operate from bordering Afghan provinces. But despite all the bad blood between them, the two sides have been in alliance against the militancy.
A Nato air strike in eastern Afghanistan has killed a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, both Nato and the Taliban said on Saturday. Both sides identified the dead commander as Mullah Dadullah and said several of his comrades were also killed in the attack on Friday.
A Nato statement did not say who carried out the assault but the alliance is alone in having the air power to conduct such an operation. It said Dadullah’s deputy, Shakir, was also killed. “Dadullah, also known as Jamal, was responsible for the movement of fighters and weapons, as well as attacks against Afghan and coalition forces,” the statement said. But his faction has been more active in carrying cross-border raids into Pakistan.
Pakistani Taliban officials, as well as Pakistani intelligence officials said Dadullah had been killed in a house in eastern Konar province, along with 12 bodyguards. They said he was the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency, near the border with Afghanistan.
Dadullah, in his 40s, replaced Maulvi Faqir Muhammad last year after Mohammad told the media that the Taliban were holding peace talks with the government. The Pakistani Taliban, committed to the same Islamist principles as the Taliban ousted from power in Kabul in 2001, replaced Muhammad with Dadullah to undercut the secret negotiations, Taliban commanders say.
Some Pakistani Taliban fighters and commanders were forced to flee into Afghanistan after the Pakistani army launched a series of offensives against them in 2008 and 2009. But they still carry out cross-border raids on Pakistani armed forces. In June, the Pakistani Taliban said they beheaded 17 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border raid.