PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - The Pakistani military said its jets killed 35 militants on Wednesday as part of an anti-Taliban offensive hours after a suspected US drone strike killed 20 extremists early in the morning.
Initially there were conflicting reports about the US drone strike with some officials denying any information about a US strike in Datta Khel area, of North Waziristan Agency (NWA), at the Pak-Afghan border.
But, latter reports said a US unmanned aircraft fired four missiles targeting a compound of suspected militants and a nearby vehicle. A security official said the attack took place around 2:00 am while an important meeting was going on in the compound. At least 12 Uzbek and 8 local militants were killed in the strike, he added.
This was the third US drone strike since Pakistan launched a military operation in NWA on June 15 last and fifth attack of the current year. Reports say that the targeted militants were moving to Zoi area from the nearby areas after the start of the army operation.
Last Thursday, six people were killed when a US drone fired two missiles on a house in Doga Madakhel area of North Waziristan. Pakistan publicly condemns the US drones strikes saying they often kill civilians and are a violation of sovereignty. But some officials, including a former president, have said the military has secretly approved them in the past.
Washington reportedly suspended its drone strikes in December to give Islamabad time to pursue a dialogue process with the TTP. However, the peace process was shattered when the Taliban launched an attack on the airport in Karachi on June 9 last.
On the other hand, Pakistan jets on Wednesday morning bombed militant hideouts in Shawal valley as part of Zarb-e-Azb military operation, killing at least 35 suspected terrorists. According to the short statement released by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the terrorist were targeted by the jet aircrafts while they were trying to flee the area.
The military said that the jets targeted members of the Pakistani Taliban and included Uzbeks, Chechens and Arab fighters, who had fled to the remote Shawal region from the military’s offensive launched last month. “These terrorists were earlier evicted from (the towns of) Mirali and Miranshah and they took refuge in the forests of the Shawal valley where jets have been targeting their positions,” a Pakistani official said.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties. Since the announcement of the operation, more than 480 terrorist have been killed.
Meanwhile, thousands of people from five villages bordering Afghanistan in Bajur tribal region have fled after the government’s deadline to leave the remote villages in Mamond sub division of the tribal district. The security forces had identified Nakhtar, Ghakhi, Mula Killi, Gohati and Kitkoot border villages for operation as militants coming from Afghanistan use them for hiding and carrying out attack at security forces inside Pakistan.
Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked fighters battling in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have for years mingled in strongholds in Pakistan’s ungoverned, ethnic Pashtun border lands but there has been little coordination in confronting them between US-led forces in Afghanistan and their Pakistani allies.
Last week three soldiers including an officer were killed in a cross border raid by militants who entered from Afghanistan and later fled back. Pakistan has asked Kabul several times to act against these militants. Pakistan’s allies had long called for a push against militants in NWA, complaining that militants were using the area as a base for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
More than half a million civilians were ordered to leave their homes before ground operations started. Residents say most militants left too. Some of the militants are believed to have gone to ground in Pakistan’s cities, while others have apparently fanned out into remote mountains and forests in areas such as the Shawal Valley.
As for the uncertainty about the US drone attack, it underlines the difficulty in getting reliable information about military operations along the border. The area is largely sealed off to outsiders and, in addition, the United States does not provide information about its drone attacks. The Pakistani military is also often reluctant to give details of its operations.