ISLAMABAD: A U.S. drone in Pakistan have killed a top commander of Haqqani insurgents behind some of the biggest attacks on Western and Afghan government targets in Afghanistan, sources said on Saturday, but this was denied by a senior Haqqani leader.
Pakistani intelligence officials and militant sources said Badruddin Haqqani, the network’s head of operations who is also believed to handle its vital business interests and smuggling operations, may have been killed during the strike this week in Pakistan’s tribal North Waziristan.
One senior Pakistani intelligence official said Badruddin had fled a compound that he and other militants were in after it was hit by a missile, then was killed by a second drone strike on a car that he was in.
However, Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a senior Haqqani network commander, denied Badruddin had been killed. He said a distant relative, 13-year-old Osama, was killed in the strike and his funeral had been mistaken by locals for Badruddin’s.
The insurgents would soon provide proof that Badruddin was alive, Jan said.
“We have proudly announced before when our people died in action or in drone strikes. Jihad against the occupying forces in Afghanistan is our mission and death is certain in fighting them. Why would we keep it secret?” he said.
Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, allies of the Haqqani network, also said Badruddin was alive.
There was no official word on Badruddin’s fate from the network. Other intelligence officials were cautious.
“Our informers have told us that he has been killed in the drone attack on the 21st but we cannot confirm it,” said one of the Pakistani intelligence officials.
If Badruddin’s death is confirmed, it could deal a major blow to the Haqqanis, one of the United States’ most feared enemies in Afghanistan.
The Haqqanis are the most experienced fighters in Afghanistan and the loss of one of the group’s most important leaders could ease pressure on NATO as it prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops at the end of 2014.
“We are 90 percent sure that he was in the same house which was attacked with a drone on Tuesday,” said another Pakistani intelligence official.
Sources close to the Haqqqani network also said Badruddin was believed to be in the house, hit by a drone strike as militants were planting explosives in a vehicle meant to be used for an attack on NATO forces in Afghanistan.
“The drone fired two missiles on the house last Tuesday and killed 25 people, most of them members of the Haqqani family,” one of the sources said.
Pakistani Taliban and tribal sources said they believed Badruddin was killed in the drone attack.
One of Badruddin’s relatives said he was alive and busy with his “jihad activities”.
“Such claims are baseless,” he told Reuters. Another relative told Reuters that Badruddin was “alive and well”.