PESHAWAR: Up to 72 civilians, including a large number of women and children, were killed in an air strike by warplanes in the scenic Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on April 10, authorities have admitted.
“More than one hundred people, mostly civilians, were also injured in the air raid in a village of Tirah Valley on Saturday,” Malik Haji Israr, Agency Counselor for Kokikhel tribe in Khyber Agency said. The strike targeted a threestorey building owned by local tribesman Shermad Khan.
”The house was bombed on absolutely wrong information,” Khanan Gul Khan, a resident of the village told Associated Press news agency.
But what compounded the situation was that people who rushed to the site to carry out relief activities after the first bombing were targeted in a second strike. Dilla Baz Khan suffered a fractured arm in the second attack, which he said came around two hours after the first one. “We were about to pull out a lady from the rubble when another jet came and bombed us,” he said from the orthopedic ward of the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar.
“Then I lost consciousness.” Speaking to The Express Tribune, Khan Baz, a resident of the Sra Vela village in Tirah, said that families in the area lost several members. “Five members of Haji Muhmmad Roz’s family, four members of Jamil’s and six member of Mughal Shah’s family were killed. They were all innocent civilians,” he lamented.
Khanan Gul Khan said many of the families in the village had sons serving in the security forces and that it had a history of cooperating with the army. He said the owner of the targeted house had two sons serving in the paramilitary Frontier Corps. “This area has nothing to do with militants,” he emphasised.
Provincial Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani had conceded on Monday that the security forces were misinformed about the presence of militants in the area before the bombing raid. In a statement he regretted the incident and promised that action would be taken against the informants. The statement was read out by political authorities to a grand assembly of elders from Kokikhel tribe who inhibit the Tirah Valley. The governor also announced compensation for the affected families. Dilla Baz Khan said an official from the Khyber political administration visited him on Monday and give him $220 for the loss of four relatives, including his brother. “He said we are sorry for this and we pray for your early recovery,’’ he said. On Tuesday, workers of almost all political parties including the ruling ANP protested against the Tirah Valley air raid.
The protesters who marched from Khyber Pass till the Press Club demanded that the amount of money given as compensation should be increased. Earlier on Monday, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas had denied that any of the dead in the air force attack were civilians, saying the army had intelligence that militants were gathering at the site of the strike.
The victims were initially reported to be suspected militants. “This has been happening across the board. This wouldn’t happen if there was an institutionalised system of accountability,” former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand told The Express Tribune. Brief reports of significant civilian casualties in the strike have appeared in the local media in recent days, but have not attracted much attention or criticism.
“The seven people killed in Abbottabad attracted attention across the country, but the deaths of these civilians went almost unnoticed in terms of publicity,” notes Mohmand. Meanwhile, intelligence officials said a missile attack late Monday close to the town of Miranshah in North Waziristan killed four suspected militants. However, Noor Gul, a resident in the village, disputed that, saying 13 civilians, including two children, were killed.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AP