|Drone attacks are widely unpopular in Pakistan due to the civilian casualties they have caused [EPA]|
A senior commander of the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, which the United States accuses of orchestrating a series of bold attacks in Afghanistan in recent months, has been killed in a US drone strike in northwestern Pakistan, officials have said.
Janbaz Zadran, also known as “Jalil”, was killed in a strike near Miran Shah, the main city in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas on Thursday.
At least four people were killed in that strike, while at least another three were killed in a separate drone strike on the Birmil area of South Waziristan.
US and Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Zadran had been killed.
A senior US official told the AFP news agency that Zadran was “the most senior Haqqani leader in Pakistan to be taken off the battlefield”.
He said that Zadran had “played a central role in helping the Haqqani network attack US and coalition targets in Kabul and southeastern Afghanistan”.
“Jalil was a highly trusted companion of Sirajuddin. He had been with the Haqqani group for a long time and was tasked with handling communications,” a Pakistani official said.
The US does not confirm its drone strikes in Pakistan, but its forces are the only ones that deploy the unmanned Predator aircraft in the region.
The latest strikes come as Marc Grossman, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani leaders to strengthen the two countries’ fragile alliance.
US-Pakistani ties strained
About 30 drone raids have been reported in Pakistan since elite US forces killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden near Pakistan’s main military academy in Abbottabad, close to the capital, in May.
The operations have angered many Pakistanis as hundreds of civilians have been killed since the raids began in 2008.
The Pakistani government publicly protests the operations, but, according to leaked cables from the US embassy in Islamabad, it supports them privately.
Last month, senior American officials accused Pakistan’s spy agency of assisting the Haqqani network in attacks on Western targets in Afghanistan, including a strike on the US embassy in Kabul.
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.
US officials have since backtracked somewhat on the claims, but the Haqqani network remains a key issue in ties between the countries.