ISLAMABAD — CIA missiles struck the most feared Afghan Taliban faction, narrowly missing its commander and killing his brother in the latest blow to the insurgents, Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday.

The attack against the Haqqani group, which has close ties to al-Qaida, followed the arrest of the Afghan insurgency’s No. 2 figure and the assault on the Taliban’s southern heartland in Afghanistan.

Siraj Haqqani, the group’s leader, was the apparent target of the attack Thursday on a village in the insurgents’ North Waziristan sanctuary, the officials said.

Haqqani was in the village to attend a funeral. Afterward, he told his brother Mohammed to drive his SUV to a hideout. Moments after Mohammed Haqqani climbed aboard two missiles struck the vehicle, killing him and three other militants, Pakistani and Taliban officials said.

Had Siraj Haqqani been killed, it would have been a major blow to one of the most aggressive insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The fact that the U.S. came so close suggests the CIA is tightening the noose around the organization – even in a sanctuary where it has operated for years.

The attack also suggests the Pakistanis may be providing vital intelligence to the U.S., even though Islamabad has resisted pressure to launch ground operations in North Waziristan. The two Haqqanis are sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former U.S. ally in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s who has maintained close ties to the Pakistani military and intelligence for decades.

Washington has been pressing Pakistan to do more to capture militants who use the country to command the insurgency in Afghanistan. At the same time, the CIA has stepped up missiles fired from unmanned drone planes at militant leaders in the tribal belt near the Afghan border.

Jalaluddin Haqqani, believed to be in his 60s or older, is said to be too ill to do much now, and Siraj is running the network. Little is known about Mohammed Haqqani, but he was considered to be more junior than his brother. The group is alleged to make its money through kidnappings, extortion and other crimes in at least three eastern Afghan provinces.

In 2007, the U.S. offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to Siraj Haqqani’s capture, an amount that has since been raised to $5 million.

Thursday’s strike at the heart of the Haqqani network comes on the heels of the arrests in Pakistan of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second only to Taliban supreme chief Mullah Omar, and of Taliban ”shadow governors” for two Afghan provinces.


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