(G.N.S) Dt. 24
A mid-level Afghan commander of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network was killed Wednesday in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region, officials said, days after Afghan authorities blamed the group for attacking a luxury Kabul hotel.
The pre-dawn strike took place well inside Pakistan territory, more than 50 kilometres from the Afghan border in Mamuzai village of Kurram tribal district.
Pakistani government officials said it was carried out by a US drone. The US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment.
A senior government official in Kurram told AFP that the drone fired one missile at a two-room compound, killing the commander and destroying the building.
“Resultantly one individual, namely Nasir Mehmood alias Ihsanullah Khurya, s/o (son of) Aqeel Muhammad, was killed,” the official said, describing him as an Afghan national and a “mid-level commander of the Haqqani Network”.
“The US drone remained in the air even after the strike and was flying there for almost 15 minutes,” the official said.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials in the area also said the US had carried out a drone strike, but according to their information the drone fired two missiles and killed two terrorists of the Haqqani network in the compound.
A source close to the Haqqani group confirmed that at least one mid-level Afghan commander had been killed.
The US and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of ignoring or even collaborating with groups that attack Afghanistan from havens along the porous border between the two countries, a claim Islamabad denies.
The Haqqanis — whose head Sirajuddin Haqqani is a deputy chief of the Afghan Taliban — have been described by US officials as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
On Sunday the Afghan interior ministry blamed the group for an hours-long attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel in which at least 22 people were killed, including US, Ukrainian, Kazakh and German citizens.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack through an official spokesman, and authorities are still investigating how the terrorists breached security at the hotel.
This month Washington froze aid to Pakistan worth almost two billion dollars in a move designed to force its military and intelligence apparatus to cut support for Islamist groups.
It also ignited speculation that the US could resume drone strikes or launch operations along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, where terrorist groups once operated with impunity.
Following the aid freeze, the Pakistani military released a statement citing US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel as assuring them that Washington “is not contemplating any unilateral action” inside Pakistan.
The freeze has cooled the relationship between the uneasy allies and prompted indignation in Pakistan, which insists the US does not recognise the thousands of lives it has lost and billions it has spent in its long battle with extremism.
Pakistan condemns ‘unilateral’ US drone strike on its territory
Pakistan on Wednesday condemned a “unilateral” US military drone strike inside its territory that security officials said killed two members of the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network, adding to already tense relations between the uneasy allies.
The unmanned aircraft’s missiles “targeted an Afghan refugee” camp in Pakistan’s northwestern Kurram region, a statement from the Pakistani foreign office said.
“Such unilateral actions, as that of today, are detrimental to the spirit of cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism,” the Pakistani statement said.
The US-led military mission in Afghanistan, which trains and assists Afghan government forces fighting the Taliban, said it “regularly conducts offensive operations within the borders of Afghanistan with the intent of bringing security and stability not only to Afghanistan, but also the entire region”, but said it had no information on the drone strike reports.
Two missiles hit a house and killed Haqqani network militants Ahsan Khorai and Nasir Mehmood in the village of Dapa Mamozai in Kurram, according to a police officer and an intelligence official.
“Two militants from Haqqani network were killed in the drone attack,” the intelligence official based in the area said.
There has been an uptick in US drone strikes inside Pakistan in the mountainous border regions bordering Afghanistan since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, though they are a long way off their peak in 2010.
Earlier this month, one man was severely wounded in a suspected drone attack in FATA, while another Haqqani militant was killed on Dec. 26 in a suspected U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan.
Trump has taken a hardline stance on Pakistan, which he says provides safe haven to high-level commanders from the Haqqani network, a group which often conducts deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
Relations between Washington and Islamabad have frayed over the past month in the wake of Trump’s angry tweet on Jan. 1 about Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” over its alleged support for the Afghan Taliban and their allies. The United States this month also suspended military assistance worth about $2 billion.
Islamabad denies sheltering militants and accuses Washington of not respecting Pakistan’s vast sacrifices in the war on militancy.
Over the past decade, almost all US drone strikes inside Pakistan have taken place within the border areas, but some Pakistani officials fear the United States under Trump will begin carrying out strikes outside the tribal areas.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have endured strain during the 16-year war in Afghanistan, especially after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces inside Pakistan in 2011.