BANNU/PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army said its jets killed 35 suspected militants on Wednesday as part of an anti-Taliban offensive hours after a US drone strike killed up to 20 people.
The attacks came in North Waziristan, where for the past month the military has been fighting to wipe out longstanding bases of Taliban and other militants.
A security official told AFP as many as 20 people may have been killed in the drone strike, 12 of them Uzbeks. He said the attack took place around 2:00 am while an important meeting was going on in the compound.
Another security official in Miranshah said a US drone fired two missiles targeting a militant compound in Zoi Saidgai area, killing at least 18 insurgents. He said there had been reports of militants moving to Zoi Saidgai from Miranshah and Mir Ali, the other main town in the area, after the start of the army operation.
Some security officials termed the reported drone strike a ‘big explosion’. And a high-ranking Pakistani military official denied that the United States was responsible for the attack. He did not elaborate.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told Reuters the military had no confirmation there had been a US drone strike.
North Waziristan Political Agent Siraj Khan, when approached, did not confirm or deny the drone strike. “I have no confirmation as of now and I am not in a position to say anything regarding the drone strike,” he told Daily Times via phone.
US drone strikes resumed in June after a hiatus of six months, during which the Taliban and the government had been involved in desultory peace talks.
In a statement issued to the media on operation Zarb-e-Azb, the military claimed killing 35 terrorists in separate incident of aerial strikes. “Today early morning 35 fleeing terrorists were killed through aerial strikes in Shawal Valley,” it said.
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) Mir Ali and Miranshah and they took refuge in the forests of the Shawal valley where jets have been targeting their positions,” one Pakistani official said.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties.
Jets and artillery began hitting rebel targets on June 15 to try to regain full control of the district and ground forces moved in on June 30. The offensive was launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi airport which killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban.
More than 400 militants and 25 soldiers have been killed so far, according to the military.
More than 800,000 people have been forced to flee from North Waziristan by the assault, with most ending up in the nearby town of Bannu. Residents say most militants left too.
There have been fears that many top militants also fled, including fighters from the feared Haqqani network, which is blamed for numerous bloody attacks in Afghanistan.
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