x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

US drone fires on Taliban territory

Between 20 and 30 Pakistanis are reported killed in US missile strikes deep inside Taliban territory.

Between 20 and 30 people were reported killed in US missile strikes deep inside Taliban territory controlled by the militant chief Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistan army spokesman said today. Drone aircraft, which are only deployed by US forces in the region, hit Taliban positions on yesterday then struck as hundreds of people gathered for a funeral in Mehsud's north-west tribal stronghold of South Waziristan.

But with the mountainous area on the Afghan border out of reach of government forces, security officials and Taliban militants have been giving widely differing death tolls. Some claimed up to 65 people were killed. "We have initial reports that are not confirmed but the casualties are somewhere between 20 to 30," the military spokesman Major Gen Athar Abbas said in Islamabad. "There were two attacks."

The first strike by an unmanned drone killed six militants in Shubi Khel, a remote area under the control of Mehsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan about 65km north of the main district town of Wana. As mourners gathered for funeral prayers, another drone unloaded three more missiles into the crowd, officials and residents said. "After the prayers ended people were asking each other to leave the area as drones were hovering," Mohammad Saeed Khan, 35, who lost his right leg in the attack, said from Miranshah hospital in North Waziristan.

"First two drones fired two missiles, it created a havoc, there was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help... they fired the third missile after a minute, and I fell on the ground." An intelligence official in Dera Ismail Khan district bordering South Waziristan said that the death tolls were impossible to verify. "Frankly nobody is clear about the actual number as the government has no writ in that area... We have no other source of getting information, we are relying on local people and residents coming here," he said.

Pakistan has publicly opposed the US strikes and said they violate its territorial sovereignty as well as deepen resentment among the populace. Since August 2008, about 43 such strikes have killed at least 410 people. *AFP