PESHAWAR/ DI KHAN/ JAMRUD:
Amidst the ongoing push by the Pakistani military against hardcore militants holed up in a remote strategic valley of Khyber Agency, remotely-piloted American aircraft took out at least nine Pakistani militants, including key commanders, in a strike just across the border in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The deadly strike came a day after the Pakistani military claimed ‘significant successes’ in an air campaign against the beleaguered militants in Tirah Valley, saying that a strategic mountainous pass used by fighters to slip in and out of Afghanistan has also been captured by security forces.
Warplanes have been pounding positions of the militants loyal to Mangal Bagh Afridi, the elusive chief of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) extremist group, and his cohorts, in Tirah Valley, and the military claims scores of fighters have been killed in these air raids.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Tuesday’s strike in the Nazyan area of Nangarhar which shares a border with Khyber Agency. Administration officials on this side of the border said US drones fired several missiles at militant compounds. He added that the compounds were decimated and all those inside were killed.
Some of the dead have been identified as LeI commanders Fazal Amin and Wajid from the Malik Din Khel sub-clan of Afridi tribe, LeI commanders Shamat Khan, Sahar Gul and Shakir from the Sipah tribe. Shakir was said to be the driver of Mangal Bagh. However, there were no reports of his killing in the strike. Apart from LeI commanders, some Taliban militants, including commander Yaseen, trainer Zar Wali and Abdul Rahman Shinwari, were also killed in the attack.
MAP: SYED YASIR RIZVI
The drone strike came days after the LeI and TTP Jamaatul Ahrar announced merger with the Mullah Fazlullah-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the outlawed umbrella of militant groups responsible for most violence in Pakistan. The merger was announced at a meeting of TTP’s Shura somewhere in eastern Afghanistan earlier this month.
No one tracks US drone strikes in Afghanistan – many of them take place in remote regions and are not reported – but Taliban commanders say fighters there are being increasingly targeted since late last year.
Meanwhile on this side of the border, fighter jets bombed militant positions in Tirah Valley on Tuesday for the fourth consecutive day. Sources said TTP and LeI hideouts were targeted in the areas inhabited by the Kokikhel tribe. Security officials claimed that 10 militants were killed and over a dozen wounded. Sources further said the security forces wrenched back control of most of the areas from militants and advanced into the Kokikhel area.
Elsewhere in the restive tribal belt, at least two men were killed and three injured in a bomb attack on a pro-government tribal elder in South Waziristan Agency Tuesday evening. The tribal elder, Noor Rahman, along with his son, Hakimullah, and other relatives, was driving through the Shaktoyee area when an improvised explosive device went off. Rahman and Hakimullah were killed in the ensuing blast and three others were wounded.
Hakimullah was an employee of the political administration of South Waziristan. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bomb attack but officials say it could be the handiwork of Taliban militants.
The militants, led by then TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, were routed in the region in a major military operation, codenamed Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation), in 2009. Tens of thousands of tribesmen displaced by the operation were sheltered in makeshift camps in southern districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Earlier this month, the government announced a phased repatriation of these tribesmen to their homes – and 300-plus families have returned home since.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2015.
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