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Haqqani militant killed by drone strike in Pakistan: officials

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 24, 2018 (AFP) – 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 kilometers (31 miles) from the Afghan border in Mamuzai village of Kurram tribal district.

Pakistani government officials said it was carried out by a U.S. drone. The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. had carried out a drone strike, but according to their information the drone fired two missiles and killed two militants 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 U.S. 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 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 U.S., Ukrainian, Kazakh and German citizens.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack through an official spokesman, and authorities are still investigating how the militants 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 U.S. could resume drone strikes or launch operations along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, where militant groups once operated with impunity.

Following the aid freeze, the Pakistani military released a statement citing U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel as assuring them that Washington “is not contemplating any unilateral action” inside Pakistan.

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The freeze has cooled the relationship between the uneasy allies and prompted indignation in Pakistan, which insists the U.S. does not recognise the thousands of lives it has lost and billions it has spent in its long battle with extremism.

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