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Taliban-linked militant killed in U.S. drone strike in Pakistan

A senior Taliban-linked commander  was killed today in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region.  REUTERS/Haji Mujtaba (PAKISTAN)
A senior Taliban-linked commander was killed today in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region. REUTERS/Haji Mujtaba (PAKISTAN)

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A senior militant commander linked to the kidnap of a U.S. soldier was killed on Friday in a suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, security and militant sources said.

Sangeen Zadran was the operational commander in Pakistan's tribal areas for the Haqqani network, which regularly attacks U.S. forces in Afghanistan from its mountain hideouts in Pakistan. He also served as the Taliban's shadow governor of Afghanistan's Paktika province.

The United States placed Zadran, 45, on its list of global terrorists in 2011. He was accused of planning bomb attacks and assaults on U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan, planning movements of foreign Taliban fighters and orchestrating kidnappings of Afghan and foreign nationals in border areas.

His death will be a temporary blow to the Haqqani network, said Saifullah Mahsud of the FATA Research Center, a Pakistani thinktank that works in the tribal areas.

"He was one of the chief mediators among the Taliban factions, responsible for settling disputes," said Mahsud. "He is or was holding Bergdahl."

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured in 2009, is the only American soldier the militants hold. They have had repeated discussions with U.S. authorities about exchanging him for some of the high-profile prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Zadran died when drones fired two missiles on a compound in the village of Dargah Mandi in North Waziristan, destroying a house and killing seven people, one security official said. Another official put the toll at five.

Mosques in Miranshah, the regional capital, announced over loudspeakers that prayers for Zadran would be offered on Friday, residents said.

A source among insurgents on the ground said the dead from Friday's drone attack also included a 32-year-old al Qaeda commander who was an expert in explosives, and identified him as Zubir al Muzi, an Egyptian national. Three Jordanians and two local fighters were also killed, he said.

There was no official comment on the death toll. Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the U.S. drone strike in a statement.

U.S. drones have been killing militants in inaccessible border areas such as North Waziristan, the main stronghold of groups aligned with al Qaeda and the Taliban, since 2004.

Pakistan says publicly that the drones cause civilian casualties and violate its sovereignty, although senior commanders have admitted some strikes were authorized. In response to the criticism, the United States has reduced strikes in recent years.

It is hard to assess the impact of drone attacks because independent observers and journalists have almost no access to the areas where the strikes occur. Most information comes from officials who speak on condition of anonymity.

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have fallen significantly over the past 2-1/2 years, to total 20 this year. There were 48 in all of 2012 and 73 in 2011, a tally by the New America Foundation shows.

(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud and Katharine Houreld, Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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