US predator drones struck the Pakistan base of a top Taliban commander on Monday, the latest hit in a concerted and controversial effort by the United States military to go after Taliban targets inside Pakistan. The aerial attack comes days after NATO troops crossed over into Pakistan to engage Taliban targets, sparking outrage from Pakistan's government.
Monday's attack was said to have targeted a compound in the North Waziristan tribal area belonging to Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the Taliban's most powerful and longest-running commanders, Reuters reports. Mr. Haqqani is believed to have escaped.
Missiles fired by U.S. drones killed 16 people, including Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, on Monday in a strike targeting a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said....
"No foreign militant was killed," [a senior intelligence officer] added, although a junior intelligence official had said earlier that Uzbek and Arab militants had been staying in the school complex.
Haqqani is a veteran of the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. He was trained, equipped, and financed by both the Central Intelligence Agency as well as Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, according to a profile compiled by PBS Frontline. During the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, Haqqani emerged as a prevalent warlord and now commands the loyalty of fighters in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is currently based in North Waziristan.
Reuters reports that Haqqani's son, Sirajuddin, has lately taken over the reins for his father, who is believed to be ailing.
One of Haqqani's younger sons said his father and son Sirajuddin had been away from the house at the time.
While the senior Haqqani is believed to be in poor health and less active, Sirajuddin has been leading the Taliban faction.
"Haqqani and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan at the time of the attack. They are alive," Badruddin, the commander's third son, told Reuters by telephone."
On Friday, three children and two women were slain in the same region during a suspected strike by a pilotless aircraft.
At least five militants were also killed the day before when a missile fired from an unmanned plane hit a house in the North Waziristan village of Mohammad Khel, officials said.
The latest strike follows Pakistani claims that US-led forces based in Afghanistan killed 15 people in a border village in neighbouring South Waziristan district last week.
That incident was condemned by Pakistan's parliament and the foreign minister who issued a tough statement calling the incident "shameful" and stating that only women and children had been targeted.
The operation comes just days after Asif Ali Zardari was elected Pakistan's new president, highlighting the challenges both for the new political regime and the US as it waits to see what Zardari's tack will be in the war on terror. On Friday, The Christian Science Monitor reported that Zardari had commented on Pakistan's role in the war on terror.
Zardari and the civilian government have been making progress in rallying public support for the war on terror, casting it as a Pakistani war, not a proxy war for America. Zardari reiterated that stance in a column in Thursday's Washington Post. "We stand with the United States, Britain, Spain and others who have been attacked," he wrote. "Fundamentally, however, the war we are fighting is our war. This battle is for Pakistan's soul."
Political observers are worried that, despite Zardari's pledges, relations with the US have reached a dangerous impasse. An editorial in Monday's issue of Dawn, a leading English-language daily, reads:
Is America a friend or foe? If that is ambiguous today, there is no doubt the coming days will settle the issue one way or the other. Distrust has been building up between the leader of the war on terror and the "frontline state" for years. It centres on America's belief that Pakistan is not doing enough and that elements in the ISI are helping the Taliban....
The future is even murkier, since the US and its allies are likely to react angrily to Pakistan's decision to suspend fuel supply to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Last week, Pakistan's government announced it was temporarily closing the Torkham Highway, one of the main routes through which gasoline and other NATO supplies travel from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Many observers have considered that move a retaliation for recent US attacks on Pakistan territory, a claim Pakistan's government denies, reported the Daily Times, another English-language daily in Pakistan.
"This decision has nothing to do with the situation in Waziristan or the US attacks. This is purely a security issue and we want no untoward incident to take place as far as supplies for [International Security Assistance Force] are concerned," [said Khyber Agency political agent Tariq Hayat] The international Torkham Highway was closed for "vulnerable vehicles", he said referring to trucks carrying ISAF supplies, and the supplies would resume after the highway was cleared.
Trucks delivering supplies to NATO in Afghanistan have come under increasing attack, the most recent on Sunday, Dawn reports.
The driver of an oil tanker was killed when a rocket hit his vehicle here on Sunday. According to police, armed men fired the rocket on the tanker carrying fuel for Nato forces deployed in Afghanistan.
By Monday, however, the Torkham supply route had been reopened, according to Reuters India.
Rehman Malik, the top Interior Ministry official, said the road was unblocked after a few hours, and traffic had only been halted for security reasons, although the country's defence minister had earlier said the action was taken in response to violations of Pakistani territory by Western forces.