South Asia News
Militants dead after Pakistani air raids kill 70 civilians (Roundup)
Apr 11, 2010, 16:01 GMT
Islamabad - Pakistani forces killed 23 Taliban militants on Sunday, a day after 70 civilians reportedly died and over 50 were injured in air raids in country's militancy-plagued tribal region near the Afghan border, officials and locals said.
The strikes were carried out in the Orakzai district, where government forces are conducting an offensive to eliminate al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts, and in the neighbouring district of Khyber.
A spokesman of the paramilitary Frontier Corps force, Major Fazalur Rehman, said 12 militants died and six were injured Sunday in a clash with troops in the Orakzai villages of Kangra and Saam.
Eleven more died as the troops captured the strategically important Sherin Darra village, Rehman added. The clashes came a day after 54 militants were killed in the Baizot area of Orakzai.
'Around 100 terrorists who had come from the nearby district of Khyber tried to capture an important checkpoint but our troops repulsed the raid,' said a local official, Riaz Masood.
Hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters have fled to the neighbouring Khyber district following the offensive in Orakzai that started in late March and has killed more than 350 rebels, according to official data.
Most of the retreating militants are taking shelter in Khyber district's remote Tirah valley where jet planes pounded a residential area on Saturday afternoon when a meeting of elders from the Koki Khel tribe was taking place.
The Koki Khel tribe is believed to have allied itself with pro- Taliban cleric Mangal Bagh, whose men have carried out suicide bombings and raids on security forces over the last two years.
Intelligence agents and officials of the local civilian government said on Sunday that more than 70 people died and around 50 were injured in the air strike in Sra Vila village in Tira valley. Most were civilians.
'The jet fighters first bombarded a cluster of six houses and when the people gathered to pull the dead and injured from the rubble the plans targeted the place once more,' said a local government official, who asked not to be named.
'It must have been a bad intelligence and the security forces must have thought that the militants were holding a meeting, which was not the case,' said the official.
A military statement on Sunday said '13 militants' died in the attack without confirming or denying any civilian casualties widely reported in Pakistani media.
Pakistan's English-language Dawn newspaper quoted health officials as saying that women and children were among the injured taken to hospitals in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.
The newspaper also cited tribal elders from Koki Khel as condemning the bombing. They claimed most of the dead were non- combatant tribesmen.
The operations have put Taliban an al-Qaeda militants under pressure and reduced the number of their bases from where they once freely carried out cross-border-raids on international forces in Afghanistan.