Suspected U.S. missile strike kills top militant's brother in Pakistan

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 20, 2010; A12

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- A suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's remote border region killed the brother of a ruthless Afghan Taliban leader whose fighters pose one of the biggest threats to international forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said Friday.

The officials said two missiles pounded a car in a North Waziristan tribal district on Thursday and killed Mohammed Haqqani, the brother of feared militant commander Sirajuddin Haqqani. The apparent target was the latter's network, an al-Qaeda-linked group that controls vast swaths of territory in eastern and southern Afghanistan. The network was founded by the brothers' father, aging Afghan militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Mohammed Haqqani was not a warrior, and an official in a nearby village said he was considered less brutal than his brother. The official said the drone strike also killed four foreign militants, a word generally used in the region to refer to fighters from Arab countries.

Sirajuddin Haqqani oversees a corps of thousands of fighters from his base in North Waziristan and is thought to shelter al-Qaeda fighters. His network has long been viewed as an asset by elements of Pakistan's security forces, which believe it could serve as a valuable counter to India's influence in Afghanistan after American troops leave.

Pakistan's army has resisted U.S. pressure to crack down on Haqqani, arguing that its forces are overstretched and must focus on militant groups that attack inside Pakistan. U.S. officials have responded with an increase in missile strikes by unmanned CIA aircraft in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

A strike on the Haqqani compound last year killed other family members, but not the leadership. On Thursday, the missiles struck in Dande Darpakhel, a village considered the network's stronghold. Mohammed Haqqani was "responsible for looking after his family" but not doing battle, the local official said.

Drone missile strikes have killed prominent Pakistani Taliban leaders in the tribal areas, including chief Baitullah Mehsud. His successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, is rumored to have been badly injured or killed in a strike last month.

The Thursday strike followed recent arrests in Pakistan of the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 commander and two top Taliban leaders from northern Afghanistan, which U.S. and Pakistani officials said were aided by increased cooperation between both countries' intelligence agencies.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters Friday that Pakistani authorities are still questioning the detained Afghan Taliban leaders to determine whether they had violated Pakistani law. If authorities do not believe the leaders had violated Pakistani law, Malik said, they could face deportation to Afghanistan but would not be handed over to the United States.

Brulliard reported from Karachi, Pakistan.

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