ISLAMABAD (AP) – A U.S. drone fired a missile Friday into a suspected militant hide-out in Pakistan’s lawless northwest, killing 12 people in an attempt to take out a jihadist commander accused of attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan, intelligence officials said.
There was no immediate word Friday whether Siraj Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban commander who operates on both sides of the border, was among the dead. Three women were killed, officials said.
The United States is suspected of having launched more than 40 missile strikes from unmanned planes on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets close to the Afghan border since last year, reportedly killing several top commanders, but also civilians. Earlier this month, one such strike is believed to have killed the Pakistani Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud.
The missile hit a housing compound in Dande Darpa Khel, a village less than a mile (about one kilometer) west of Miran Shah in North Waziristan, four intelligence officers said condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
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 Miran Shah. However, Pakistani authorities had not been able to confirm he was there, they said. The two officials said Haqqani had visited the targeted house in the past.
Twelve people were killed, including three women, they said. None of the dead has been identified, but local informants told the officers that all those in the house were Afghans.
Dande Darpa Khel and surrounding areas are strongholds of Haqqani, whose network is powerful 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.
Siraj is the son of senior Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran of the fight against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s whom American commanders now count as a dangerous foe. Both father and son are alleged to have close connections to Al Qaeda and to have helped funnel foreign fighters into Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis have been linked to attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on a hotel in Kabul, both last year. Haqqani network operatives also plague U.S. forces in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province with ambushes and roadside bombs.
Pakistan’s border region is remote, mountainous and there is little government or military control there. Al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the area and militants move freely across the border.
The U.S. occasionally fired missiles into the region beginning in 2006, but dramatically stepped up the attacks last year.
The strikes have targeted militants behind surging attacks in Pakistan, those blamed for violence in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists allegedly using the area to plot or train for terrorist attacks around the world.
The missiles are fired from CIA-operated drones believed to be launched from across the border in Afghanistan or from secret bases inside Pakistan. They are reported to be piloted by operatives inside the United States. U.S. officials rarely, if ever, acknowledge the airstrikes.
The Pakistani government publicly protests the attacks, which are unpopular among many in the Muslim country of 170 million people, many of whom see the United States and its allies as conducting an unjust war against fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
Despite this, it is assumed to be cooperating with the strikes and providing intelligence for them. The government says Washington should give the technology to Islamabad because its military is capable of using the drones.