U.S. kills al-Qaeda-linked militant in Pakistan

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DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — A U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in Pakistan‘s northwest tribal region Thursday, killing five suspected militants, intelligence officials said. The Taliban identified one of them as a prominent commander who has served as a key link to al Qaeda.

The commander, Badar Mansoor, led a group of more than 200 Pakistani Taliban fighters in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan, a fellow insurgent said.

Pakistani intelligence officials could not confirm that the commander was one of the five suspected militants killed in the strike in the main bazaar in Miran Shah, the biggest town in North Waziristan.

The intelligence officials and Taliban fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The strike was the second in as many days in North Waziristan, an indication the drone program is picking up steam again after a slowdown caused by tensions with Pakistan over accidental American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year.

The U.S. held off on carrying out drone strikes for more than six weeks after the deadly accident on Nov. 26. There has been a handful of attacks since they resumed in January, but the last two are the first consecutive strikes since the border incident.

Mansoor, the militant commander who was killed before dawn on Thursday, was from Pakistan‘s largest province, Punjab, and migrated to North Waziristan in 2008, said the Taliban fighter who reported his death. The 230 fighters he led were also from Punjab, the insurgent said.

The enlistment of Punjabis in the Pakistani Taliban has been a serious concern for the government because it is easier for them to export violence from the hinterlands near the Afghan border to the heart of the country.

Mansoor allegedly was involved in many suicide attacks throughout Pakistan.

On Wednesday, another salvo of U.S. missiles hit a house in North Waziristan’s Spalga village, killing nine people including some Pakistani Taliban militants, said Pakistani intelligence officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Obama spoke publicly about the covert CIA-run drone program for the first time in a recent interview. But he and other U.S. officials refuse to openly say more about the details of the strikes because they are classified.

The border region is home to both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters, both of whom are targeted by the strikes. The Afghan Taliban crosses the border to attack NATO and government forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani militants mainly focus on fighting Islamabad.

Pakistani officials regularly denounce the strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. But the government is widely believed to have facilitated the program in the past, especially when the attacks have targeted Pakistani Taliban militants at war with the state.

U.S.-Pakistan cooperation has come under strain as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated.

Pakistan was outraged by the U.S. attack that killed its soldiers at two Afghan border posts in November. Pakistan retaliated by closing its border to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and by kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones.

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