Taliban-linked militant killed in U.S drone strike in Pakistan

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A senior Taliban-linked commander designated a foreign terrorist by the United States was killed on Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, security and militant sources said.

The 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.

Security sources said all those killed were insurgents. The location of the attack is known as a stronghold of the Haqqani network, which regularly attacks U.S. forces in Afghanistan from its mountain hideouts in Pakistan.

An intelligence source in the region said Sangeen Zadran, a senior Haqqani commander who also served as the Taliban's shadow governor of Afghanistan's Paktika province, was among the dead.

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

In a sign of how deeply Taliban-linked militants are entrenched in the tribal areas, mosques in Miranshah, the main regional town, made loudspeaker announcements that a funeral prayer for Zadran would be offered on Friday, residents said.

The United States placed Zadran, who was 45, on its list of global terrorists in 2011.

He had long been accused of involvement in 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.

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.

U.S. drones have been hitting militant targets in troubled and inaccessible border areas such as North Waziristan, the main stronghold of groups aligned with al Qaeda and the Taliban, since 2004.

Pakistan is angry over the drone strikes, saying they cause civilian casualties and violate its sovereignty. In response, the United States has reduced their use in recent years.

It is hard to assess the impact of drone attacks because independent observers and journalists have almost no access to the areas where the strikes occur. Most information comes from officials who speak on condition of anonymity.

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have fallen significantly over the past 2-1/2 years, to total 20 this year. There were 48 in all of 2012 and 73 in 2011, a tally by the New America Foundation shows. (Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud, Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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