CIA'S Near Miss of Top Afghan Taliban Leader Sign of Improved Intelligence

A CIA drone attack in one of Pakistan's tribal areas last week killed the brother of a senior Afghan Taliban commander instead of the commander himself only because the commander decided at the last minute not to attend a family member's funeral, according to a resident in the area of the missile strike.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom U.S. officials believe is the most dangerous Afghan Taliban commander, was supposed to attend his aunt's funeral but sent his brother Mohammad instead. Mohammad was then killed while traveling to the funeral in Sirajuddin's car, according to the resident.

The CIA has long wanted to kill Haqqani, but has rarely, if ever, come this close. The near miss suggests the agency's intelligence about the Afghan commander's movements inside Pakistan has increased significantly.

U.S. officials also suggest the strike is an indication that the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency, while not totally turning their backs on their past support for the Haqqani network, are now "less and less inclined to care about the Haqqanis," according to one U.S. official who spoke to ABC News in exchange for anonymity.

Another official put it this way: "They're letting us handle it," a reference to a large increase in drone strikes aimed at the Haqqani network, which enjoys a safe haven in the North Waziristan tribal area inside Pakistan.

The two U.S. officials cautioned, however, that Pakistan is still sharing more intelligence on commanders who attack Pakistan -- most notably, the Pakistani Taliban -- than on commanders who only launch attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, of which Haqqani is the most prominent.

The strike came in the middle of one of the most successful months since the war in Afghanistan began, at least measured by counter-terrorism achievements. In total four major Afghan Taliban leaders were captured in the last month in joint CIA-Pakistani intelligence agency operations, including two senior members of the Afghan Taliban leadership circle and two shadow governors from northern Afghan provinces, according to Pakistani government officials and U.S. officials. Less important commanders have also been caught, the officials add.

The most recent to be caught is Mullah Qabir, a senior member of the Quetta Shura, the leadership council named for the southwest Pakistani city where it's believed to be based. Afghan officials have said Qabir was arrested by Pakistan's intelligence service, but Pakistani intelligence officials have so far denied that -- and U.S. officials say Pakistan has not informed them whether Qabir has in fact been captured.

In the middle of such success, U.S. officials admit they simply do not know why the Pakistani intelligence agency -- which has supported or at least turned a blind eye toward Afghan militants living inside Pakistan in the past -- has been so willing suddenly to crack down on them.

Some suggest the actions come as intelligence presents itself.

A senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called the recent arrests "targets of opportunity."

That echoed a statement made by Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the war in Afghanistan, to a small group of foreign reporters in Islamabad this week: "I wouldn't share your characterization that, in a sense, they have always had this intelligence… What has happened is that there have been some important breakthroughs."

But two other U.S. officials admitted they were forced to read tea leaves, not sure whether Pakistan had ignored past intelligence or even whether recently captured Taliban military chief Mullah Baradar had been arrested because he was shutting the Pakistani military out of a reconciliation process with the Afghan government.

Either way, the U.S. is celebrating the counter-terrorism successes, suggesting they're a product of a vastly improved relationship from the one the Obama administration first inherited.

That comes in part, they say, simply from the level of attention the U.S. has paid to Pakistan. In the last month the country's capital has been barraged by an unprecedented number of senior U.S. officials, including National Security Advisor James Jones; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen; Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus; Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flourney; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry; and Richard Holbrooke, the administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan special representative -- twice.

Pakistani officials point to one moment to demonstrate how the relationship has evolved: when James Jones, in an unusually large meeting with senior military and government officials, asked a question that opened the discussion, sending the signal he wanted to listen rather than dictate.

"That was a remarkable moment," a Pakistani government official said.

Both American and Pakistani officials caution the trust deficit has not totally disappeared. But American officials suggest every diplomat and military official visits with the same open message as Jones did.

"There's much more positive engagement. When we opened up in the past, they were suspicious. Just in the last month or two, the change has been palpable," said one U.S. diplomat, who said there was a new "U.S. attitude" toward Pakistan.

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