PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A pair of missiles launched by a U.S. drone hit a militant hideout today near the Afghan border, killing a key Afghan commander wanted by the United States and five other suspected militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Sangeen Zadran was staying at a sprawling compound near the border town of Ghulam Khan in the North Waziristan tribal region when the missiles destroyed it early today, officials said.
Several hours after the strike, clerics used mosque loudspeakers in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, to announce his death and urge residents to attend his funeral, witnesses in the town said. Five Pakistani intelligence officials said they also received confirmation from their agents of Zadran’s death.
A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, however, denied that Zadran had been killed. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the commander is alive in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
The remoteness of and the danger in Pakistan’s tribal areas makes it difficult for journalists to independently confirm such incidents. Militants often initially deny when one of their own has been killed.
Agents were investigating the identity and nationality of the other five men killed, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The area where the strike took place was believed to be a hiding place for the Afghan Haqqani network, the officials said. Zadran was a key commander within the militant network. U.S. officials consider the Haqqani network to be one of the most dangerous factions fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani intelligence officials say hundreds of people attended Zadran’s funeral. Later, the Taliban took his body to an unknown location for burial, residents and the officials said.
The State Department in an August 2011 statement accused Zadran of targeting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“Sangeen Zadran helps lead fighters in attacks across southeastern Afghanistan, and is believed to have planned and coordinated the movement of hundreds of foreign fighters into Afghanistan,” the statement said, adding the man was behind the kidnappings of Afghans and foreigners.
North Waziristan is a tribal region home to a mix of Pakistani, Afghan and al-Qaida-linked foreign militants, who used the remote border region as a base from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The U.S. drone program causes extreme tension between Pakistan and the United States. Washington says it needs to use the unmanned aircraft because Pakistan refuses to engage fighters in the remote area. Pakistan says its troops are already weighed down fighting militants along the Afghan border.
Thursday’s strike came less than a week after a U.S. drone killed three foreign militants in an abandoned seminary in the same region.
Pakistan has routinely criticized the strikes calling them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Today, Pakistan’s foreign ministry again called for an end to the drone attacks, saying such “strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications.”