Deadly drone strike signals renewed U.S.-Pakistan cooperation

ISLAMABAD — A U.S. drone strike reportedly killed a notorious Pakistani al Qaida operative before dawn Thursday in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, the latest sign that the United States and Pakistan are stepping up coordinated intelligence operations despite a downturn in relations.

The apparent CIA drone strike on a compound in Miranshah, the main town of the North Waziristan tribal agency, reportedly killed four militants, including Badar Mansoor, the head of a small militant outfit that carries his name.

Mansoor wasn't considered a high-value terrorist target by the FBI, but he had been listed at least since 2009 in the so-called red book of terror suspects maintained by Pakistan's Interior Ministry. He also was a close associate of Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of al Qaida's operation in Pakistan until his death in a drone strike last year.

The attack was at least the fourth drone strike in a month and came a day after American, Afghan and Pakistani military officials met to discuss resuming cooperation on border security, which has been suspended since 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a friendly fire incident in November.

However, Thursday also marked the expiration of a 10-year agreement between Pakistan and the United States that provided for joint intelligence operations against al Qaida and the Taliban. The Pakistani military has referred this and other post-2001 agreements to a non-partisan parliamentary committee that was formed after the friendly fire incident to review Pakistan's foreign policy. The committee is expected to present recommendations to Parliament later this month.

Security analysts in Islamabad said that such pinpoint assassinations are virtually impossible unless the CIA has detailed information from its Pakistani counterpart, the military's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The analysts asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Pakistan's government denies complicity in the drone strikes and frequently complains about them as violations of its sovereignty. But diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks laid bare in December 2010 the Pakistani government's involvement, and security analysts say that officials complain mainly about U.S. drone strikes carried out without their knowledge.

Unilateral U.S. strikes have focused on the Haqqani network, a faction of the Afghan Taliban with bases in Pakistan's tribal areas, including in Miranshah.

The Pakistani government and the Haqqani network have been allies since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In 2006, the insurgent group brokered a peace agreement between Taliban insurgents and Islamabad, and the resultant peace in North Waziristan and much of South Waziristan has enabled Pakistani security forces to focus on counterinsurgency operations in other parts of the tribal areas.

Mansoor was a former member of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant group that trained with al Qaida in the 1990s and fought Indian security forces in Kashmir, a territory disputed by India and Pakistan. Its fighters also fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mansoor split with the outfit in 2007 after its leader, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman Khalil, opposed the insurgency that the Pakistani Taliban declared against the government. The insurgency was declared after Pakistani security forces raided a seminary in Islamabad, killing some 400 militants and seminary students, including scores of orphaned girls.

Security officials and Pakistani militants, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that his so-called Badar Mansoor Group frequently worked with al Qaida and its main Pakistani affiliate, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, to launch terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

They said he also helped the Haqqani network in return for permission to live and work on Pakistani territory it controls. His group also regularly carried out operations against NATO forces in the Haqqani network's eastern Afghanistan strongholds.

Mansoor raised funds by kidnapping people for ransom, they said.

Mansoor's group also was involved in the May 2010 attacks on two places of worship of the Qadiani sect in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, in which 98 worshippers were killed. Qadianis consider themselves Muslim but have been disowned by mainstream Islam because the sect differs on several core beliefs, notably the status of Mohammed as the final messenger of God.

(Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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