A US missile strike killed a ranking member of the militant Haqqani network yesterday in northwestern Pakistan, striking at a group that Washington claims is the No. 1 threat in Afghanistan and is supported by Pakistani security forces, local intelligence officials said.
Two other militants were killed in the attack in the Haqqani stronghold of North Waziristan, the group’s main sanctuary along the Afghan border, Pakistani officials in the region said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
They identified the Haqqani member as Jalil and said he was a “coordinator” for the group. The men were walking down a street when the drone-fired missile hit, the officials said. One said Jalil was related to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the network.
The missiles hit close to Dande Darpa Khel Village, which is home to a large seminary with links to the Haqqanis.
The al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani network is one of most organized insurgent factions fighting the US presence in Afghanistan, and it has been blamed for high-profile assaults against Western and Afghan targets in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Washington has long urged Islamabad to attack the fighters, who live undisturbed in North Waziristan despite the region being home to several thousand Pakistani troops. At the same time, the US is pursuing the possibility of peace talks with the Haqqanis and other Taliban factions, reflecting the fact that the insurgency cannot be defeated militarily.
Last month, senior US officials accused Pakistan’s spy agency of assisting the Haqqani network in attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan, including a strike last month on the US Embassy in Kabul. Pakistani officials have denied the charges.
They were the most serious allegations yet of Pakistani duplicity in the 10-year war in Afghanistan and sent already strained ties between Islamabad and Washington plunging further. Officials from the administration of US President Barack Obama have since backtracked on the claims, but the Haqqani network remains the key issue in ties between the countries.
Most independent analysts say Pakistan is either tolerating or supporting the Haqqani network to some degree because it foresees chaos in Afghanistan once the US withdraws, and wants to cultivate the group as an ally there against the influence of India, its regional enemy.
Since 2008, the US has regularly unleashed unmanned drone-fired missiles against militants in the border region, which is home to Pakistani militants, Afghan factions like the Haqqanis and al-Qaeda operatives from around the world, especially the Middle East.
This year, there have been about 50 drone strikes, most of them in North Waziristan.
US officials do not acknowledge the CIA-led program publicly. Pakistani officials protest the strikes, which are unpopular among many Pakistanis, but the country is believed to support them privately and makes no diplomatic or military efforts to stop them.