International

US drone strike kills six in Pakistan

The attack targeted a top commander of the Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban

The Obama administration has conducted 19 drone attacks in Pakistan in 2013.
Massoud Hossaini/AP

A senior commander from an armed group linked to the kidnap of a U.S. soldier was one of six people killed Friday in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border.

Sangeen Zadran was the operational commander in Pakistan's tribal areas for the Haqqani network, a group allied with the Taliban that regularly attacks U.S. forces in Afghanistan from its mountain hideouts in Pakistan.

The United States placed Zadran, 45, on its list of global "terrorists" in 2011. He was accused of planning bomb attacks and assaults on U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan, planning movements of foreign Taliban fighters and orchestrating kidnappings of Afghan and foreign nationals in border areas.

His death will be a temporary blow to the Haqqani network, said Saifullah Mahsud of the FATA Research Center, a Pakistan think tank that works in the tribal areas.

"He was one of the chief mediators among the Taliban factions, responsible for settling disputes," Mahsud said. "He is or was holding Bergdahl."

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured in 2009, is the only American soldier the militants hold. They have had repeated discussions with U.S. authorities about exchanging him for some of the high-profile prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Zadran died when drones fired two missiles on a compound in the village of Dargah Mandi in North Waziristan, destroying a house and killing seven people, one security official said. Another official put the toll at five.

A source among insurgents on the ground said the dead from Friday's drone attack also included a 32-year-old al-Qaeda commander who was an expert in explosives, and identified him as Zubir al Muzi, an Egyptian national. Three Jordanians and two local fighters were also killed, he said.

There was no official comment on the death toll. Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the U.S. drone strike in a statement.

U.S. drones have been killing militants in remote border areas such as North Waziristan, the main stronghold of groups aligned with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, since 2004.

Pakistan says publicly that drones cause civilian casualties and violate its sovereignty, although senior commanders have said some strikes were authorized.

While the Obama administration views drone strikes as a vital tool in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, their use has recently declined. A database kept by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, puts the number of U.S. attacks at 19 this year. 2010 was the peak year for U.S. strikes with 122.

On a visit to Islamabad last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that drone strikes in Pakistan could end "very soon" as the threat of militancy recedes.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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