US drone strike kills key commander in Pakistan

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2011 3:31 AM
US drone strike kills key commander in Pakistan

Suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft fired six missiles at a vehicle in Pakistan's rugged tribal region Thursday, killing five militants, including a close ally to one of the area's top commanders, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The attack in the South Waziristan tribal area killed Khan Mohammed, also known as Sathai, deputy leader of a group of militants led by Maulvi Nazir and also the commander's cousin, said the officials.

The strike also killed Nazir's younger brother, Hazrat Omar, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Nazir is one of the most powerful militant commanders in the tribal region and is accused of working with the Taliban and al-Qaida to stage attacks against foreign troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

He is believed to have close relations with Pakistani intelligence and agreed to stay neutral when the military invaded South Waziristan in 2009 to fight the Pakistani Taliban, who have focused their attacks against the Pakistani state.

The U.S. has criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on militants staging attacks in Afghanistan and has stepped up drone attacks in the tribal region to combat them.

The militants killed in Thursday's drone strike were riding in a double-cabin pickup truck from Tora Gola village to the nearby area of Azam Warsak when they were hit, said the intelligence officials. Three other people were injured in the attack, they said.

The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the CIA-run drone program in Pakistan publicly, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many senior al-Qaida and Taliban commanders.

Pakistani officials regularly criticize the attacks in public as violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government has actually supported them in private and allowed the drones to take off from bases within Pakistan.

That cooperation has become strained this year as the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has deteriorated, especially following the arrest of a CIA contractor in January and the covert American raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May.

Before Thursday's strike, a Pakistani army convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in the Shakai area of South Waziristan. The explosion killed two soldiers and wounded three others, said intelligence officials.

South Waziristan was the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban before the military invaded in 2009. Many of the militants fled the area, but attacks still occur periodically.

Also Thursday, a bomb exploded in the main food market in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, wounding at least 11 people. Police officer Shafqat Malik said three of the victims were in serious condition.

The bomb contained about 6.5 pounds (3 kilograms) of explosives and was planted in a cooking oil canister. Local TV footage showed damaged shops with pieces of metal and wood littering the ground.

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and has been frequently targeted by the Pakistani Taliban.


Associated Press Writer Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.