Taliban leader escapes US missile, brother killed

Taliban leader escapes US missile, brother killed
# 20 February 2010 02:57 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. CIA missiles struck the most feared Afghan Taliban faction, narrowly missing its commander and killing his brother in the latest blow to the insurgents, Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday, APA reports quoting Associated Press.
The attack against the Haqqani group, which has close ties to al-Qaida, followed the arrest of the Afghan insurgency’s No. 2 figure and the assault on the Taliban’s southern heartland in Afghanistan — all providing an early boost to the Obama administration’s bid to reverse the tide of war.
Siraj Haqqani, the group’s leader, was the apparent target of the attack Thursday on a village in the insurgents’ North Waziristan sanctuary, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release details.
Haqqani was in the village to attend a funeral. Afterward, he told his brother Mohammed to drive his SUV to a hideout. Moments after Mohammed Haqqani climbed aboard two missiles struck the vehicle, killing him and three other militants, Pakistani and Taliban officials said Friday.
Had Siraj Haqqani been killed, it would have been a major blow to one of the most aggressive insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The fact that the U.S. came so close suggests the CIA is tightening the noose around the Haqqani organization — even in a sanctuary where it has operated for years.
The attack also suggests the Pakistanis may be providing vital intelligence to the U.S., even though Islamabad has resisted pressure to launch ground operations in North Waziristan. The two Haqqanis are sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former U.S. ally in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s who has maintained close ties to the Pakistani military and intelligence for decades.
Washington has been pressing Pakistan to do more to capture militants who use the country to command the insurgency in Afghanistan, away from the threat from U.S. ground forces. At the same time, the CIA has stepped up missiles fired from unmanned drone planes at militant leaders in the tribal belt near the Afghan border.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, believed to be in his 60s or older, is said to be too ill to do much now, and Siraj is running the network. Little is known about Mohammed Haqqani, but he was considered to be more junior than his brother. The group is alleged to make its money through kidnappings, extortion and other crimes in at least three eastern Afghan provinces.
In 2007, the U.S. offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to Siraj Haqqani’s capture, an amount that has since been raised to $5 million.
Thursday’s strike at the heart of the Haqqani network comes on the heels of the arrests in Pakistan of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second only to Taliban supreme chief Mullah Omar, and of Taliban "shadow governors" for two Afghan provinces.
The arrests have triggered intense speculation about why the Pakistanis are moving now, chiefly because of the widely held view that authorities could have moved against the Taliban’s top leaders any time since they began regularly using Pakistani territory as bases after fleeing the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Taliban fighters also are under assault in the southern Afghan town of Marjah, a center of their supply and drug-smuggling network, by about 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops. Despite stubborn resistance, NATO commanders say they expect to clear the town within 30 days and re-establish Afghan government control.
The offensive in Marjah, the biggest since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001, is a major test of President Barack Obama’s strategy for reversing the rise of the Taliban. About 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements are being sent to Afghanistan to bolster Afghan forces.
Many analysts say Pakistan wants to be a partner in negotiations with the Taliban that the United States and the Afghan government now acknowledge are key to ending the conflict. They say arresting Baradar could help Pakistan secure a seat at the table in any talks, and thereby help retain its influence in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Friday that Pakistani authorities were still questioning Baradar and the two other Taliban leaders.
If it’s determined they have broken Pakistani law, they will be brought before the courts, he said.
"But at the most if they have not done anything, then they will go back to the country of origin, not to USA," Malik told reporters.
The level of U.S. involvement in Pakistan’s operations against militants is a sensitive topic here, with many Pakistanis angry at perceived interference in the affairs of their country and Afghanistan. Malik’s comments were likely aimed at quelling such feelings. In any case, Pakistan’s security agencies largely operate outside the control of the civilian government.
Pakistani authorities working with the CIA arrested Baradar about two weeks ago in the southern port city of Karachi, Pakistani and U.S. officials have said. The shadow governors — Mullah Abdul Salam of Kunduz province and Mullah Mohammad in Baghlan province — were arrested at around the same time.
A series of raids by Pakistani forces has followed, netting senior al-Qaida-linked militants as well as lower-level operatives. U.S. communication intercepts helped Pakistani forces in some raids, Pakistani officials said.
Two intelligence officials said Friday that nearly three dozen suspects had been arrested since Baradar’s capture in Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab provinces — some of them because of information gleaned from the Taliban leader. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Taliban spokesmen have denied the arrests of the senior figures, accusing NATO of spreading propaganda to undermine the morale of Taliban fighters in Marjah.