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Suspected U.S. drone strikes kill Pakistani Taliban commander, officials say

By Jibran Ahmed Saud Mahsud

PESHAWAR/DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A pair of suspected U.S. missile strikes killed a senior Pakistani Taliban deputy and other militants in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said on Friday.

Four Pakistani intelligence officials and three Taliban commanders told Reuters on Friday that two separate U.S. missile strikes on Wednesday killed the fighters.

One of the strikes, they said, killed a Pakistani Taliban commander, Khan Said, alias Sajna, and three more people, when missiles struck his pick-up truck in Margha village of Birmal district in Paktika province of Afghanistan.

The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan said it had no information about the strike.

The officials sought anonymity because they weren't authorized to disclose the information. They are based in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and have informants on the ground on both sides of the border.

They said on Friday they have also been picking up militants' chatter through phone intercepts in which they were talking about Sajna's killing. Three Pakistani Taliban commanders confirmed their account.

Sajna has been an important militant commander of the Pakistani Taliban and had close links with the Afghan Taliban, the officials said.

Two of the officials said they were trying to confirm reports of another suspected U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on Pakistani side of the border.

The second strike hit a compound in Gurwek town of North Waziristan, killing seven militants, the three Taliban commanders said.

North Waziristan and Paktika province in Afghanistan are adjacent to the border, and the officials and the militant commanders may have been reporting the same strike as two separate ones.

The border region has long been home to local and al-Qaeda linked foreign militants. It is off limits to journalists and verifying any information independently is difficult.

U.S. drone strikes in the border regions of Pakistan have picked up since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, though they are a long way off their peak in 2010.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have frayed in recent months after Trump's angry tweet on Jan. 1 about Pakistan's "lies and deceit" over its alleged support for the Afghan Taliban and their allies. Last month, the United States suspended about $2 billion assistance to Islamabad.

Pakistan denies sheltering militants and accuses Washington of not respecting Pakistan's sacrifices in the war on militancy.

"There’re still several drones flying here," one of the three Taliban commanders said on Friday speaking by phone from the Paktika province.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad, editing by Larry King)

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