Taliban-linked commander killed in Pakistan, sources say
Los Angeles Times
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A senior commander linked to the Taliban was among six militants reportedly killed early Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan along the Afghan border, according to local media and an intermediary with close links to militants.
The commander, Afghan national Mullah Sangeen Zadran, had been a top leader with the Haqqani network who reportedly served as the Taliban's unofficial governor of Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika province, said the intermediary, who requested anonymity.
Two Jordanians, an Egyptian and two local militants linked to the Haqqani network also were reportedly hit in the suspected U.S. drone strike, he added. The network is an Islamist insurgent group operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that enjoyed CIA support during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan but is now allied with the Taliban fighting NATO-led forces.
Unconfirmed media reports said two missiles in the early morning hours of Friday hit and destroyed a house where the militants were staying in Dargah Mandi village in North Waziristan, a longtime haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants. In the past, the reported killings of top militants have sometimes turned out to be untrue.
Afghanistan has often blamed Pakistan for providing militants a safe haven in its mountainous northeastern border region, from which they can stage attacks on Afghan territory. Islamabad has repeatedly denied any support for militancy, arguing that it is the real victim of terrorism.
Zadran, reportedly age 45, is accused of masterminding bomb and manned attacks on U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan, overseeing logistics for Taliban fighters, and kidnapping foreign and Afghan nationals around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In 2011, the United States put him on its worldwide list of terrorists.
Since 2004, the CIA has been carrying out attacks on inaccessible areas such as northwest Pakistan with drones, also referred to as unmanned aircraft. The strikes are highly controversial among Pakistanis, many of whom see it as a violation of national sovereignty and a de facto death sentence for civilians caught in the path of missiles.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly called for an end to their use over Pakistan airspace. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in 2012 that 176 children and between 472 and 885 civilians were killed by drone strikes between 2004 and late 2012, along with approximately 3,000 militants.
The U.S. has maintained that the civilian toll is minimal.
In response to growing public outrage in Pakistan and concerns their use may serve as a recruiting tool for extremists, the U.S. has been reducing the number of strikes. President Barack Obama said this year they were a legitimate tool against terrorism but pledged greater transparency and stricter rules on who would be targeted.
According to the New America Foundation, there were 17 reported drone strikes in the first eight months of 2013, compared with 48 in 2012, 73 in 2011 and 122 in 2010.
On a trip to Pakistan in August, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the U.S. hoped sometime soon to halt the use of drones. "The program will end, as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it," he said in an interview broadcast on state television. "We hope it's going to be very, very soon."