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Drones kill al-Qaeda, Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region

A pair of U.S. missiles killed two al-Qaeda operations planners in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region this month, part of a 48-hour fusillade that also killed another al-Qaeda operative and a top deputy in the militant Haqqani network, U.S. officials confirmed Thursday.

The deaths were disclosed on the same day that a suspected CIA drone killed five leaders of a Pakistani Taliban unit linked to attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, according to local authorities in Pakistan. The Thursday strike brought to five the number of U.S. missile attacks in the lawless tribal area since Oct. 1.

Separate strikes Oct. 14 killed Abu Miqdad al-Masri and Abd al-Rahman al-Yemeni, two al-Qaeda veterans tied to the group’s senior leadership and actively involved in planning operations overseas, said two senior U.S. officials familiar with details of CIA operations. The officials said Masri was a former associate of Osama bin Laden.

“They were key figures important to what is left of the network,” said one of the two U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the highly classified CIA drone program.

Release of the names was delayed while U.S. officials sought to verify the deaths, the officials said. Other alleged senior militant operatives killed during a flurry of missile strikes Oct.13-14 were previously identified as Ahmed Omar Abdul Rahman, also known as Saifullah, the son of the blind Egyptian cleric tied to the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trace Center; and Janbaz Zadran, a high-ranking member of the Haqqani network, which battles U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The rapid-fire strikes were part of an ongoing effort to target militant leaders and undermine the groups’ ability to communicate and plan, the two U.S. officials said. The Obama administration has sought to increase pressure on the Haqqanis amid high-profile attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in recent months.

Pakistani officials described the drone attack Thursday as targeting leaders of a Taliban branch that has staged cross-border attacks on international troops. Among the militants killed, a Pakistan security official said, was Khan Mohammad, a deputy of the prominent Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir.

The five militants killed were returning from Afghanistan when six drone-fired missiles struck their vehicle, the official said.

Khan, a special correspondent, reported from Peshawar, Pakistan. Correspondent Karin Brulliard and special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad, Pakistan, and staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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