U.S. misses mark in Pakistan strike
At least 9 dead in apparent attack on Islamic commander
PESHAWAR, Pakistan – U.S. forces made an apparently unsuccessful attempt Monday to assassinate a prominent Taliban-linked commander who sometimes shelters in Pakistan’s tribal areas, local witnesses and military officials said.
Missiles from a suspected American drone aircraft struck a compound in the insurgent stronghold of North Waziristan, just across the border from Afghanistan, witnesses said. At least nine people were killed, though some reports put the tally as high as 21.
The targeted village, Dande Darba Khel, contained a madrassa, or Islamic seminary, and a family compound associated with the Haqqani clan. A Haqqani-led network of fighters is blamed for a number of high-profile attacks inside Afghanistan this year against Western forces and other targets.
In the past few weeks, the Bush administration has stepped up unilateral strikes against Taliban and al-Qaida figures in the tribal belt adjoining the Afghan border. Last week, American forces made an unusual ground raid on a village just inside Pakistan, killing up to 20 people but apparently failing to kill any militant leaders.
Associates of the Haqqani clan told Pakistani media that neither Jalaluddin Haqqani nor his son, Sirajuddin, who has largely taken over his command role in the Taliban movement, were present in the village at the time of Monday’s strike. But some other close relatives, including one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s wives, were among the dead, they said.
The elder Haqqani, who is reportedly ailing, made his name as a guerrilla commander during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He also has long-standing links to Osama bin Laden, whom he is believed to have met in the late 1980s. The dead in Monday’s missile strike included at least three suspected foreign militants, but at least two children and some women were believed killed as well, local officials said.
The Haqqani network is thought to be responsible for attacks including a shooting and bombing assault on a luxury Western hotel in Kabul, an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai and the bombing of the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital, which killed about 40 people.
Pakistan publicly decries U.S. raids on its soil as a violation of its sovereignty, even though its government is thought to tacitly support such unilateral moves on the part of the Americans. A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Murad Khan, confirmed that explosions had taken place Monday in the area of North Waziristan, but that the cause was not immediately known.