x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Airstrikes kill 21 militants near Afghan border

Five Pakistani soldiers and at least 21 suspected militants were killed in clashes in a region near the Afghan border where the military is pursuing Taliban insurgents fleeing a US-backed offensive, authorities said today.

PARACHINAR, Pakistan // Five Pakistani soldiers and at least 21 suspected militants were killed in clashes in a region near the Afghan border where the military is pursuing Taliban insurgents fleeing a US-backed offensive, authorities said today. The reports came a day after officials said 61 suspected militants died in airstrikes in the same region, Orakzai, and underscored the challenge facing Pakistan as it tries to wipe out Pakistani Taliban fighters bent on overthrowing the state. A local government official, Sami Ullah, said the fighting occurred after dawn this morning when militants attacked a checkpoint. He said at least 27 militants died. But an army statement said 21 insurgents were killed, and the clashes occurred when security forces were trying to recapture a checkpoint taken last night by militants in the Kalaya area of Orakzai. The two accounts could not immediately be reconciled. Yesterday, jet fire rained down in the Mamuzai area of Orakzai, targeting a religious seminary, a mosque and a school a local official said. Two intelligence officials said the seminary was a main centre for Tableeghi Jamaat, a nonviolent Islamic missionary group. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to reporters. The centre was targeted because a group of Taliban leaders were believed to be meeting there in the afternoon, the officials said. Some four dozen people died in the airstrikes in and around the seminary, while 13 others were killed in morning strikes at the two other sites. The officials said all 61 killed were suspected militants. Orakzai is considered a major base for Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistan Taliban's top commander, who is believed to have died in a US missile strike in January. The Taliban have denied his death, but have failed to show evidence he is still alive. The Pakistani Taliban have been under pressure in their main stronghold, South Waziristan tribal region, since the army launched its ground offensive there in October. Many are believed to have scattered to other parts of the tribal belt, which borders Afghanistan in Pakistan's northwest. Orakzai and neighboring tribal area Kurram have witnessed numerous airstrikes over the past few months as Pakistan tries to catch fleeing militants.

* AP