US kills al-Qaida-linked militant in Pakistan

By Ishtiaq Mahsud and Rasool Dawar, AP

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan–A U.S. drone fired two missiles at a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region Thursday, killing five suspected militants, intelligence officials said. The Taliban identified one of them as a prominent commander who has served as a key link to al-Qaida. The commander, Badar Mansoor, led a group of over 200 Pakistani Taliban fighters in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan, said a fellow insurgent. Pakistani intelligence officials could not confirm that Mansoor was one of the five suspected militants killed in the strike in the main bazaar in Miran Shah, the biggest town in North Waziristan. The intelligence officials and Taliban fighter spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The strike was the second in as many days in North Waziristan, an indication the drone program is picking up steam again after a slowdown caused by tensions with Pakistan over accidental American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. The U.S. held off on carrying out drone strikes for over six weeks after the deadly accident on Nov. 26. There have been a handful of attacks since they resumed in January, but the last two are the first consecutive strikes since the border incident. Mansoor, the militant commander who was killed before dawn on Thursday, was from Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and migrated to North Waziristan in 2008, said the Taliban fighter who reported his death.

The enlistment of Punjabis in the Pakistani Taliban has been a serious concern for the government because it is easier for them to export violence from the hinterlands near the Afghan border to the heart of the country. Mansoor was allegedly involved in many suicide attacks.