U.S. drones hit Taliban commander's Pakistan house

Mon Sep 8, 2008 2:59am EDT

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(Adds detail, reopening of border to supply Western forces)

By Haji Mujtaba

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Missiles fired by U.S. drones killed at least three people on Monday in a Pakistani village near the Afghan border where a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden is located, witnesses said.

"There were two drones and they fired three missiles," said a resident of Dandi Darpakheil, a village near Miranshah, main town of the North Waziristan tribal region.

A military official said a house and madrasa founded by Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani was the target of the aerial attack.

The resident said three people had been killed in the attack while doctors said 15 to 20 wounded people, most of them women and children, had been taken to Miranshah's main hospital.

One of Haqqani's younger sons said his father and son Sirajuddin had been away from the house at the time.

While the senior Haqqani is believed to be in poor health and less active, Sirajuddin has been leading the Taliban faction.

"Haqqani and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan at the time of the attack. They are alive," Badruddin, the commander's third son, told Reuters by telephone.

Badruddin said one of his aunts had been killed in the attack on the family home, and women and children were among the wounded. He said six missiles had struck the house, which the family had owned for 30 years.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas confirmed that an "incident" had taken place in North Waziristan and its cause was being ascertained.

Haqqani is a veteran commander of the U.S.-backed Afghan war against Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s, and his links with bin Laden go back to the late 80s.

CLOSE LINKS WITH ISI

He also has had close links with Pakistani intelligence agencies, notably the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The New York Times reported in July that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had given Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani evidence of the ISI's involvement with Haqqani along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people on July 7.

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have stepped up cross-border attacks in recent weeks against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal areas.

U.S. commandos carried out a helicopter-borne ground assault in the neighbouring South Waziristan region on Wednesday in what was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S. troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistani officials said 20 people, including women and children, had been killed in the attack which drew a furious response from the government.

A day later, four Islamist militants were killed and five wounded in a missile attack in North Waziristan, believed to have been launched by a U.S. drone aircraft.

Intelligence officials and witnesses said five people had been killed in another suspected drone attack on Friday but the Pakistan military denied it.

Pakistani anger over the American commando raid and repeated territorial violations prompted the government to partially block supply lines to Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan on Saturday.

Rehman Malik, the top Interior Ministry official, said the road was unblocked after a few hours, and traffic had only been halted for security reasons. The country's defence minister had earlier said the action was taken in response to the violations by Western forces. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Roger Crabb)



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