New York: Top Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani was the target of the heaviest US drone strikes in Pakistan`s lawless region, but may just have escaped the assault, as American officials for the first time said that Hakimullah Mehsud was dead.
A commander of the Haqqani group told CNN that "Siraj was in the area but had left moments before the strike."
The TV network said the reported strike on Tuesday night were unusual for the relatively high number of missiles fired -- at least 19 -- and for the high death toll.
The CNN quoting US counter-terrorism officials said they believed that Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah is dead, in strongest signal Washington has said about his fate. At least eight drones took part in the coordinated attack hitting houses, cars and bunkers in multiple target raids in which 31 militants were killed including two top Pakistani Taliban commanders and six foreign militants.
The missiles hit four villages of Daigan, Muhammad Khel, Pai Khel and Toor Narai all said to be strongholds of the Haqqani network.
Sirajuddin Haqqani or Siraj is a senior Taliban and leader of the Haqqani network, founded by his father Jalaluddin Haqqani, and is long time ally of al Qaeda. The group operates on both side of Afghan Pakistan border and is well-known to US, CNN said.
Haqqani has been parts of most of the attacks against US forces and NATO forces and has claimed he planned assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and assault on Serena Hotel in Kabul.
The US intelligence believed he masterminded the bombings on the CIA base in Khost and on Indian embassy in Kabul.
For the first time, the CNN said US drones had been monitoring and targeting the Haqqani clan, whose fighters numbering over 12,000 dominate Khost, Paktya, Paktiar and other Pashtun dominated areas of eastern Afghanistan.
The TV network said a US missile strike on the Haqqani compound in 2008 had killed large number of Haqqani members including wives and children.