Saturday, June 16, 2018

Afghanistan says a top Haqqani leader is killed

KABUL, Afghanistan — The son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani network was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan, Afghanistan's intelligence agency said Sunday, eliminating a key member of the militant group the United States considers one of the most dangerous in the region.

The Taliban rejected reports of Badruddin Haqqani's death, however, saying that he was alive and well in Afghanistan.

Haqqani's death would be a serious blow to the organization founded by his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The network, which has ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida, has been blamed for a series of high-profile attacks and kidnappings in Afghanistan, particularly in and around Kabul, and poses perhaps the biggest threat to stability in the country.

Shafiqullah Tahiri, the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, said Haqqani was killed last week in an airstrike in Pakistan. Tahiri did not provide any further details, and would not say what information the agency's operatives were basing their conclusion on.

U.S. officials have declined comment on the reports.

But Tahiri's account is similar to one provided Saturday by a senior Taliban leader who said Haqqani, thought to be in his mid 30s, was killed in a drone strike. The account also hews closely to a version provided by Pakistani officials who said Saturday that they were 90 percent sure the militant commander was killed in a missile attack Tuesday in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region.

He was considered second in command, behind older brother Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The Taliban, which is allied with the network, rejected reports of his death. In a phone call with the Associated Press on Sunday, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid again maintained that Badruddin Haqqani was alive.

The territory where the U.S. drone strikes generally occur are in Pakistan's remote and dangerous tribal regions, making it difficult for reporters or others to verify a person's death. The United States does not comment publicly on its drone program, which is widely reviled by the Pakistani public and has been a source of tension with Islamabad.

The network runs a mafia-like smuggling operation and occasionally turns to terrorism with the aim of controlling its territory in eastern Afghanistan. The group uses Pakistani towns to plan, train and arm themselves with guns and explosives, cross into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces, then retreat back across the border to safety.

Badruddin Haqqani has been considered a vital part of the group, playing an active role in kidnappings, extortion and high-profile operations in Afghanistan. Tahiri said Haqqani's responsibilities included arranging suicide bombers, maintaining relations with other insurgent groups, recruiting Pakistani Taliban fighters for the group, and overseeing operations in southeastern Afghanistan and in Kabul.

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