KABUL Afghanistan said on Sunday it believed that a top commander of the militant Haqqani insurgent network had been killed in a U.S. drone strike, citing intelligence reports that it said countered Afghan Taliban claims that Badruddin Haqqani was still alive.
Haqqani, who was head of operations and ran the network's vital business interests, was thought to have been killed during the strike this week in Pakistan's tribal North Waziristan, both Afghanistan's Interior Ministry and national spy agency said.
"The elimination of Badruddin Haqqani will deal a major blow and serious setback to the Haqqani Network," Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
Shafiquallh Tahriri, spokesman for Afghanistan's spy agency the National Directorate of Security, also said that Haqqani was killed last week, based on intelligence from Afghan agents collected from sources in Pakistan.
Tahriri declined to say what evidence was in the reports the government had received, including whether anyone had actually seen Badruddin Haqqani's body.
However, Afghanistan's Taliban, allies of the Haqqani network, dismissed claims of Badruddin's death on Saturday as propaganda from Pakistan's military and the NATO-Afghan coalition.
Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a senior Haqqani network commander, also denied that Badruddin - the son of the network's founder Jalaluddin Haqqani - had been killed and said the insurgents would soon provide proof he was alive.
U.S. officials blame the al Qaeda-linked Haqqanis for some of the worst recent attacks in Afghanistan, including an April 15 attack on embassies, NATO headquarters and the parliament in Kabul which lasted 18 hours, killing 11 Afghan security forces and four civilians.
Another attack in June which Afghan and Western officials blamed on the Haqqanis saw insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machineguns storm a hotel on the outskirts of Kabul, killing 20 mostly civilians.
The United States accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its arch-rival India in the country.
Pakistan denies the allegations.
(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Louise Ireland)