ISLAMABAD – Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Thursday that a U.S. drone strike last week near the Afghan border killed the son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani militant network, a major blow to one of the most feared groups fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
Badruddin Haqqani, who has been described as the organization's day-to-day operations commander, was killed on Aug. 24 in one of three strikes that hit militant hideouts in the Shawal Valley in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, said two senior intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The presence of the mostly Afghan Haqqani network in North Waziristan has been a major source of friction between Pakistan and the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly demanded Pakistan prevent the group from using its territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan, but Islamabad has refused -- a stance many analysts believe is driven by the country's strong historical ties to the Haqqani network's founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Pakistani intelligence officials didn't specify which strike on Aug. 24 killed Badruddin, but said he was leaving a hideout when the U.S. missiles hit. The confirmation of his death came from their sources within the Taliban, which is allied with the Haqqani network, and agents on the ground, they said. But neither the officials nor their sources have actually seen Badruddin's body.
Pakistani intelligence officials previously said they were 90 percent sure Badruddin was killed in a drone strike in a different part of North Waziristan on Aug. 21. It's unclear what caused the discrepancy.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency said several days ago that its operatives had confirmed Badruddin's death, but did not provide any details. A senior Taliban commander has also confirmed the militant's death.
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabiullah Mujahid, has however rejected reports of Badruddin's death, calling them "propaganda of the enemy."
The U.S. does not often comment publicly on the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan and has not said whether Badruddin was killed.
The areas where the American drone strikes generally occur are extremely remote and dangerous, making it difficult for reporters or others to verify a particular person's death.
Badruddin is considered a vital part of the Haqqani structure. He is believed to be the network's day-to-day operations commander, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.
The U.S. State Department has designated Badruddin, along with his father and brothers -- Nasiruddin and Sirajuddin -- as terrorists. The State Department said in May 2011 that Badruddin sits on the Miram Shah Shura, a group that controls all Haqqani network activities and coordinates attacks in southeastern Afghanistan.
Badruddin is also believed to have been responsible for the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde, the department said.
After their father effectively retired in 2005, Badruddin and his brother Sirajuddin expanded the network into kidnapping and extortion, both highly profitable for the organization, according to a recent report by the West Point, N.Y.-based Combating Terrorism Center. Afghan intelligence authorities have released intercepts of Badruddin orchestrating an attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in 2011, the CTC said.
The U.S. has long viewed the Haqqani network as one of the biggest threats to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as the country's long term stability. The group has shown little interest in negotiating with the Washington, and has pulled off some of the highest-profile and most complex attacks in Afghanistan, although not necessarily the most deadly.
The Pakistani military has refused to target the Haqqani network, saying its troops are stretched too thin fighting militants at war with the state in other parts of the tribal region. But many analysts believe the military views the group as an important potential ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. Pakistan worked closely with Badruddin's father, Jalaluddin, during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Also Thursday, gunmen shot to death a Shiite Muslim judge along with his bodyguard and driver in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, said senior police official Wazir Khan Nasir. The police suspect it was a sectarian killing, he said.
Extremist Sunni Muslims have been killing Shiites with increasing frequency in Baluchistan and other parts of Pakistan.