US kills Haqqani commander in drone strike in Pakistan

The US has reportedly killed a senior commander for the Haqqani Network in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan yesterday. If confirmed, the strike is the fourth recorded in Pakistan so far this year.

Pakistani officials told The Express Tribune that US unmanned aerial vehicles fired two missiles at a compound owned by Abu Bakar Haqqani in the district of Hangu in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Abu Bakar and “two close aides” from the Afghan province of Paktika were killed in the attack.

The Haqqani Network is an integral part of the Taliban, and is closely allied with both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also one of two deputy emirs of the Afghan Taliban.

Afghan officials accused the Haqqani Network of detonating the massive truck bomb in Kabul’s diplomatic quarters that killed more than 150 people, including mostly civilians, on May 31. The Taliban and Sirajuddin have denied involvement in the Kabul attack multiple times.

The US has targeted the Haqqani Network in Hangu at least one other time in the past several years. On Nov. 21, 2013, US drones hit a seminary in Tal in Hangu where Haqqani Network leaders had gathered. At least six Haqqani commanders were reportedly killed. Sirajuddin is believed to have been the target of the strike.

Haqqani Network leadership has been targeted numerous times during the US drone campaign in Pakistan, which began in 2004 but was ramped up in 2008 under President George W. Bush. The US has killed 13 Haqqani Commanders, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. Among those killed were Badruddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s brother and a top deputy; Jan Baz Zadran, the group’s third in command; Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior military commander who was the Taliban’s shadow governor of Paktika; and Abdullah Haqqani, who coordinated and trained the group’s suicide bombers.

Fourth strike reported in Pakistan this year

The June 13 strike is just the fourth bombing reported in Pakistan this year. It is also only the fourth since the US killed Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in an airstrike in Baluchistan province in May 2016.

In the most recent strike, on May 24, the US killed “Abdullah,” who was identified by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as “a great master in electronics.” Abdullah was associated with Akhtar Muhammad Khalil, the Taliban’s emir for North Waziristan.

On March 2, US drones reportedly killed two jihadists as they rode on a motorcycle in the tribal agency of Kurram. An Afghan Taliban commander known as Qari Abdullah Subari is believed to have been killed in the strike, according to Reuters. And on Apr. 29, US drones reportedly killed al Qaeda commander Abdul Raheem.

Drone strikes in Pakistan have tapered off significantly since the peak of operations against al Qaeda’s leadership and allied jihadist groups in 2010, when 117 strikes were recorded. In 2015, the US launched just 11 attacks. In 2016, there were only three more, including the one targeting Mansour in May 2016, which was the final one for the year, the last of President Obama’s second term.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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