- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A U.S. missile strike Friday targeted a Taliban commander blamed for masterminding ambushes on American troops in Afghanistan, the latest assault by unmanned aircraft in northwestern Pakistan, intelligence officials said.

It was not clear whether Siraj Haqqani, who also has close ties to al Qaeda, was among the 12 people killed in the house in North Waziristan near the Afghan border, the officials said, adding that three women were among the dead. Haqqani is known to have sometimes visited the house.

The strike on the Haqqani network suggests a return to the original aim of the covert missile program - to kill al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who use the lawless northwest as a base to plot attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan or terrorist attacks around the world. A drone apparently killed Pakistan’s most-wanted militant, Baitullah Mehsud, on Aug. 5.

The program now appears to have greater Pakistani cooperation than before, thanks to an agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan to target each other’s main foes along the remote frontier, officials and analysts say.

Friday’s early morning missile strike was the third in three weeks in Pakistan, which officially protests the drone assaults as a violation of its sovereignty. The United States is believed to have launched more than 40 such attacks in the northwest since last year.

The missile hit a housing compound in Dande Darpa Khel, a village in North Waziristan, four intelligence officers said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. None of the dead had been identified, but local informants told the officers that all those in the house were Afghans.

The U.S. launched the strike based on information that Haqqani was in the compound, according to two of the local intelligence officials based in North Waziristan. However, Pakistani authorities have not been able to confirm that he was there at the time, they said.

Dande Darpa Khel is the Pakistani stronghold of Haqqani, who operates on both sides of the border and has a powerful network in eastern Afghanistan. He has a large Islamic school in the village that was hit by a suspected U.S. missile in October 2008, killing about 20 people.

Haqqani is the son of senior Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was supported by U.S. and Pakistani aid when he fought in the 1980s against Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan. Now, American commanders count him as a dangerous foe. Both father and son are suspected to have close connections to al Qaeda and to have helped funnel foreign Islamist fighters into Afghanistan to fight NATO troops.

The Haqqanis have been linked to an attempt to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, both last year.

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