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Officials: Taliban commander killed in missile strike

ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani Taliban commander wanted in the deadly 2006 bombing of the U.S. consulate in Karachi was killed in a suspected CIA missile strike in northwest Pakistan, officials said yesterday, the latest blow in a crackdown on militants in the region.

Mohammed Qari Zafar was among at least 13 people killed Wednesday when three missiles slammed into a compound and a vehicle in the Dargah Mandi area of the North Waziristan tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.

It was the latest strike in an intensified U.S. campaign to take out Taliban and al-Qaida leaders believed to be sheltering in the lawless border region with missiles fired from unmanned drone aircraft. At the same time, Pakistani intelligence forces have cracked down on Afghan Taliban in the country, arresting more than a dozen top leaders in the past few weeks.

The increased pressure on the Taliban in Pakistan comes as U.S.-led forces are fighting their biggest offensive of the 8-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan in what Western officials are hoping will be a turning point in the conflict.

Zafar, a senior member of the banned al-Qaida-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is one of Pakistan's and Washington's most wanted men.

The U.S. government alleges Zafar was a key figure the March 2006 suicide car bombing of the U.S. consulate in the commercial metropolis of Karachi that killed U.S. diplomat David Foy and three Pakistanis, and has posted a $5-million reward for information leading to his capture. He is also suspected in Pakistan of being involved in the September 2008 truck bomb blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 54 people.

Senior Karachi police official Mazhar Mishwani said Zafar was among his force's most wanted terrorists. "If the man killed is the same Qari Zafar, it is a very big success," Mishwani said.

Nazirullah Khan, a local government official in Parachinar, near North Waziristan, confirmed Wednesday's suspected missile strike and said it killed 13 people, including three Taliban commanders.

Earlier Thursday, Pakistani officials said nearly 15 senior and midlevel Taliban figures have been arrested in recent weeks. The top prize has been Afghan Taliban No. 2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and information he has provided to interrogators has led to the detention of some other leaders, the officials said.

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