MIRANSHAH, Pakistan — US drone missiles on Thursday killed 10 militants including a commander in the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, which the American military has linked to Pakistani intelligence.
US drones hovering over Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan fired the salvo of missiles on the day that American envoy Marc Grossman held talks with Pakistani leaders on strengthening their fragile alliance in the war on terror.
Covert CIA drones are the United States’ chief weapon against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who use Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas as launchpads for attacking US troops in Afghanistan and plotting attacks on the West.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for the first time this week publicly said that the United States is waging “war” in Pakistan against militants, referring to the covert CIA campaign that the US government declines to discuss.
Two missiles slammed into a compound in Dandey Darpakhel village, about seven kilometres (four miles) north of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal district.
“Jamil Haqqani, an important Afghan commander of Haqqani network was the target and was killed,” a Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
A Pakistani intelligence official confirmed the killing and said Jamil was working as a coordinator of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
The official said the three other people killed in the strike were Haqqani fighters guarding the commander in the compound.
Confirming a Haqqani leader had died in North Waziristan Thursday, a senior US official in Washington said it was “the most senior Haqqani leader in Pakistan to be taken off the battlefield”.
The official named him as Janbaz Zadran, aka Jamil, and said he had “played a central role in helping the Haqqani network attack US and coalition targets in Kabul and southeastern Afghanistan”.
Pakistani officials said he was not a relative of Jalaluddin, the Afghan warlord who founded the Taliban faction, or his son Sirajuddin, who now runs the network.
But they said he was “very close to the top commanders including Sirajuddin”.
Hours later a second attack hit the Birmal area in the neighbouring district of South Waziristan close to the Afghan border, killing six militants, a Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity
Another official said the attack happened as militants loyal to Pakistani warlord Maulvi Nazir, whose fighters are loyal to the Haqqanis, tried to move from one area to another, about two kilometres (one mile) from the border.
The United States says the Haqqanis are one of their most potent foes in the 10-year war in Afghanistan and blamed them for a 19-hour siege of the American embassy in Kabul on September 13.
Washington significantly stepped up demands last month on Islamabad to take action against the network and cut alleged ties to the group.
The outgoing top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency and accused Pakistan of supporting attacks on US targets in Afghanistan.
But US action has been largely limited to US drone strikes.
More than 50 have been reported in Pakistan so far this year and dozens since Navy SEALs killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad, close to the capital, on May 2.
Islamabad officially denies any support for Haqqani activities, but has nurtured Pashtun warlords for decades as a way of influencing events across the border in Afghanistan and offsetting the might of arch-rival India.
The Pakistani military says it is too over-stretched fighting local Taliban to acquiesce to American demands to launch an offensive against the Haqqanis, a battle that not all observers think the Pakistani military would win.
In southern Pakistan, gunmen on torched four oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan, before fleeing on motorbikes.
Pakistan is the largest single route into Afghanistan for supplies and equipment required by foreign forces, although the United States has increasingly tried to find alternative routes through Central Asia.