KHYBER AGENCY - On the second consecutive day on Friday the US drones targeted three suspected bases of alleged militants in the inaccessible Tirah valley, tehsil Bara of Khyber Agency, killing at least 60 suspected militants including two militant commanders and leaving more than a dozen injured, official sources said.
According to them, 39 of the killed belonged to defunct Lashkar-e-Islam while 15 were supporters of banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The drones fired missiles on two suspected bases of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam, including Sandana in Sepah area and Nangrosa in the same locality, a source in the Bara administration confirmed. Whereas the third missile was fired at the TTP base at Nakai in the jurisdiction of another Afridi tribe known as Malik Deen Khel in the Tirah Valley.
The sources said that over a dozen suspected militants were also wounded in these strikes. The three strongholds of the militants were stated to be also destroyed in the strikes.
Remarks of the militants spokesmen were not available as his cell phone was off when made repeated phone calls.
The total number of drone strikes in Khyber Agency has raised to four so far, which has created panic among the masses of the area. Scores of families have started shifting to Jamrud and other safe areas, the sources said.
Agencies add: At least 60 suspected militants were killed in three US drone strikes in the tribal belt, the highest death toll this year.
The US has stepped up its use of drones to deny Al-Qaeda and Taliban groups safe havens along the border with Afghanistan. This was the first drone attack after President Barack Obama announced the review of Afghan war on Thursday last. There had been more than 100 drone attacks in 2010, over double than last years total.
On Friday, when the whole of Pakistan was observing Ashura, the drones targeted Khyber region, an area largely untouched by the CIAs covert programme of drone attacks.
The first attack destroyed two vehicles in the Tirah Valley, killing seven alleged militants and wounding nine. A later strike hit a compound in Speen Darang village, where the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban affiliate known to be strong in Khyber, was meeting. It killed 38 people, including commanders. The third strike took place in Narai Baba village and killed 15 militants.
The United States has widened drone attacks in Pakistan this year, but almost all of them have been in the North Waziristan. Attacks in Khyber are not very frequent.
The attacks Friday in Tirah Valley occurred within hours of each other. We have initial reports of several suspected militants killed in three attacks, one intelligence official in the region said. It could not be immediately verified from independent sources if all the dead were militants, who often dismiss official death toll in such attacks. A similar strike the day before killed seven suspected militants in the same region.
Pilotless US drones have been attacking Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants for the past few years in the lawless tribal areas, but there have been a surge in these strikes this year.
Analysts expect the drone strikes to continue and even increase after the Obama administration Thursday unveiled its year-old strategy in Afghanistan, where US-led NATO troops are fighting a raging Taliban insurgency.