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U.S.: Al Qaeda commander believed killed in Pakistan

  • Story Highlights
  • Khalid Habib considered operations coordinator for al Qaeda near Pakistan border
  • U.S. intelligence says Habib is "probably" dead; no final DNA match
  • Pakistani officials said strike was from unmanned drones
  • U.S. the only country in the area with capability to launch missiles from drones
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A senior al Qaeda operational commander is believed to have been killed recently in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, several U.S. officials told CNN Wednesday.

The U.S. has conducted missile strikes on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan targeting terrorist leaders.

The U.S. has conducted missile strikes on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan targeting terrorist leaders.

The officials identified the man as Khalid Habib, who is considered to have been an operations coordinator for al Qaeda in the tribal region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding.

One official described him as the "chief of external operations" for al Qaeda.

Officially, the U.S. intelligence assessment is that Habib was "probably" killed last Thursday, because there is no final DNA match, but there is every reason to believe he was killed, the officials said. Local groups in Pakistan also reported his death over the weekend.

The U.S. officials would not confirm Habib's apparent death was the result of a missile strike by a U.S. Predator unmanned drone.

But a Pakistani intelligence official and eyewitnesses reported October 16 that unmanned planes fired missiles over the village of Saam, in Wana -- the capital of South Waziristan -- killing at least four civilians and wounding seven others.

The United States, which has a presence in Afghanistan, is the only country operating in the region known to have the capability to launch missiles from drones, which are controlled remotely.

At the time, U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul had no comment on such strikes, as part of its standing policy.

One U.S. official described Habib Wednesday as "one of the top figures" in al Qaeda, who is believed to have had direct contact with bin Laden in the past.

He's also believed to be a key deputy to Mustafa Abu Al Yazid, also known as "Sheikh Said," who is the commander of the al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

A source in Pakistan told CNN it is believed Habib replaced the previous operational chief, Abu-Laith al-Libi, who was killed several months ago.

Pakistan's military is waging a bloody battle against Taliban and al Qaeda militants inside the lawless tribal region along the border with Afghanistan. U.S. forces based in Afghanistan have also targeted militants in Pakistan's tribal region, primarily through missile strikes carried out by unmanned drones.

Last month, the U.S. military sent ground forces into South Waziristan without the government of Pakistan's permission, prompting an angry response from Islamabad over reported civilian casualties.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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