ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Ten militants wiped out by a U.S. drone attack early Thursday were members of the feared Haqqani network that kidnapped U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a senior Taliban source said.
Among the dead were two senior Haqqani commanders known as “Qari Yar Jan” and “Roohullah,” the source told NBC News on the condition of anonymity.
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The Haqqani network, a hardened faction of the Taliban, has become one of the most formidable enemies of the United States in the region and regularly launches attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. It held Bergdahl for more than four years until his release in a controversial prisoner swap deal on May 31.
The militants were in two trucks carrying arms and ammunition - including explosives – close to the Afghan border in North Waziristan when one of the vehicles developed engine trouble. When the convoy stopped to fix the fault, the U.S. drone fired missiles, the source said.
"The drones had targeted to two mini Mazda trucks carrying Taliban fighters to Afghanistan for an attack," the Afghan Taliban commander told NBC News.
"We collected only body pieces of the slain people. All were burnt and were beyond recognition."
Six of the 10 were Afghan nationals while the remaining four were Pakistanis, the source told NBC News.
Residents said strike, which took place before dawn, hit a house where a large quantity of explosives was reportedly dumped.
"I never heard such a huge and deafening blast," said Javed Khan of Miranshah. "It jolted the entire tribal region.”
The 10 were killed in Tabi Tolkhel, the same Pakistan village where six other suspected militants were targeted in another U.S. drone strike only a few hours earlier.
A Pakistani military source told NBC News that six militants killed in the first strike included four from Uzbekistan. On Wednesday, the Taliban said Uzbek militants had aided Sunday night’s deadly gun battle at Karachi airport that left at least 36 dead.
Together, Thursday’s drone strikes were the first in North Waziristan since Christmas Day, Pakistan officials said.
Pakistan publicly opposes U.S. drone strikes, saying they kill too many civilians and violate its sovereignty, but in private officials have admitted the government supports them.
The Haqqani network is headed by Commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of veteran former Afghan Mujahideen leader Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani.
It had lost several senior members in the drone attacks in North Waziristan during the past few years, including his two sons and Maulvi Sangeen, who kidnapped Bergdahl from the Paktika province in southern Afghanistan in June 2009.
Reuters and NBC News' Alastair Jamieson, in London, contributed to this report.
First published June 12 2014, 7:37 AM