Mullah Sangeen Zadran is listed by the U.S. State Department as the "shadow governor" for Afghanistan's Paktika Province and a commander of the Haqqani network. He was among six fighters killed Friday by a drone attack in the North Waziristan tribal district of Pakistan, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
Zadran was also involved in the 2009 capture of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey. He was identified by the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that tracks terrorists, standing next to Bergdahl in a 2010 videotape released by Bergdahls captors.
Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, were informed of Zadran's death early Friday morning, said Col. Tim Marsano, a spokesman for the Idaho National Guard who has fielded questions for Bergdahl's family.
"They don't have any comment," Marsano said.
Captured on June 30, 2009, Bergdahl is the only U.S. soldier taken prisoner in the war in Afghanistan. He is believed still held by the Haqqani network, though a senior Haqqani official last December denied the group had Bergdahl.
Its unclear what effect Zadrans death could have on efforts to get Bergdahl released. The Taliban this summer offered to free Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five senior Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay.
Im confident that my brothers and sisters in arms will continue to diligently pursue the safe return of Sgt. Bergdahl, Marsano said.
The drone that killed Zadran fired two missiles at a sprawling militant hideout outside Ghulam Khan, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Zadran was tied to many attacks using improvised explosive devices in the border region, the State Department alleged. They said Zadran was also responsible for kidnappings of Afghans and foreign nationals, and that he is believed to have planned and coordinated the movement of hundreds of foreign fighters into Afghanistan.
The State Department designated him as a terrorist in an August 2011 order. The United Nations made a similar designation.
Zadran served as a senior lieutenant to Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. U.S. officials consider the Haqqani network to be one of the most dangerous factions fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
Several hours after the drone strike, clerics announced Zadrans death over mosque loudspeakers in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, and urged residents to attend his funeral, witnesses in the town said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Five Pakistani intelligence officials said their agents had confirmed Zadran's death.
A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, however, denied that Zadran had been killed. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the commander is alive in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province.
The remoteness of and the danger in Pakistan's tribal areas makes it difficult for journalists to independently confirm such incidents. Militants often initially deny the killing of one of their own.
Agents were investigating the identity and nationality of the other five men killed, the officials said. They declined to be identified because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Pakistani intelligence officials say hundreds of people attended Zadran's funeral later in the day. Later, the Taliban took his body to an unknown location for burial, residents and the officials said.
North Waziristan is a tribal region home to a mix of Pakistani, Afghan and al-Qaida-linked foreign militants, who used the remote border region as a base from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Friday's strike came less than a week after a U.S. drone killed three foreign militants in an abandoned seminary in the same region.
The U.S. drone program causes extreme tension between Pakistan and the United States. Washington says it needs to use the unmanned aircraft because Pakistan refuses to engage fighters in the remote area. Pakistan says its troops are already weighed down fighting militants along the Afghan border.
Pakistan has routinely criticized the strikes, calling them a violation of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. On Friday, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry again called for an end to the drone attacks, saying such "strikes are counterproductive, entail the loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications."
Also Friday, thousands of supporters of Pakistan's anti-U.S. groups rallied in Islamabad, vowing to defend the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The rally was organized to mark the Defense Day of Pakistan, the day on which Pakistan claims its forces repulsed a 1965 Indian attack.
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba the group blamed for the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people led the rally. Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Saeed, said they had planned the rally weeks ago.
John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell