US drones on Friday fired missiles near Pak-Afghan border, killing at least 12 people and destroying six militant hideouts.
It was the fifth such attack in as many days. At least 41 people including Jamaat-ul-Ahrar chief Umar Khalid Khorasani have been killed in the drone attacks.
Senior militant commander Asad Afridi has emerged as the favorite to become the new leader of a deadly Pakistani Taliban faction, militant sources said on Friday, days after a US drone strike killed Khorasani.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, has killed hundreds of people in bomb attacks and is considered one of the most dangerous militant groups in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.
The leader of a Pakistani militant group whose suicide bombings killed more than 250 people died on Thursday of injuries from a US drone strike in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the militants said.
Omar Khalid Khorasani’s death comes ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit and is likely to help ease tensions between the often-wary allies, as Islamabad has been asking Washington to target militants who attack inside Pakistan and hide over the border in Afghanistan.
Khorasani’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, is one of dozens of armed Islamist factions – including al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban – operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But JuA has been particularly deadly in Pakistan, claiming responsibility for eight major attacks in two years.
Among them was last year’s Easter Sunday bombing in a park that killed at least 70 people, including 29 children, in the eastern city of Lahore.
The group also said it carried out a suicide attack at a hospital that killed at least 74 people in the southwestern city of Quetta, a bombing also claimed by Islamic State, with which JuA also has been affiliated.
Rumours had flown for two days that Khorasani had been wounded in US drone strikes along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and on Thursday his group confirmed he had died.
“Our leader, Omar Khalid Khorasani, was wounded in one of the recent drone strikes in Afghanistan. He was wounded badly, and today he was martyred,” JuA spokesman Asad Mansur said by telephone.
The announcement came a week after Pakistan’s army rescued a kidnapped American couple and their three children from the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban faction that Washington has long accused Islamabad of failing to target.
Mystery shrouded US drone strikes in the Pak-Afghan border area amid conflicting account details as sources confirmed that over two dozen people had been killed in two days of attacks in and near Kurram Agency but political administration as well as Pakistan Army denied that the strikes took place inside the Pakistani territory.
Officials said Tuesday that the death toll from a US drone attack on a meeting in a compound used by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network in Pakistan’s remote tribal Kurram district along the Afghan border has risen to 26. “First drone strike killed five fighters from Haqqani network and minutes apart a second drone then fired two more missiles after militants arrived to retrieve dead bodies from the rubble,” a senior government official in Kurram told AFP. “So far 26 dead bodies have been retrieved and drones are still flying in the sky,” the official said.
A second government official in Kurram confirmed the drone strikes and the new death toll.
While AFP reported that the Monday strikes occurred in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency, the local political administration said that the strikes in fact targeted militants in the Shpola area of Afghanistan’s Paktia province.
Five people were killed on Tuesday in the fourth drone strike along the Pak-Afghan border near Kurram Agency since Monday, the local political administration said.
The strike was the third in the day and fourth since last night. Local sources said drones have been hovering around the area since Monday.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told a private news channel on Wednesday that the recent US drone attacks targeted the Pak-Afghan border area and did not happen inside Pakistan’s territory.
The ISPR said that the US-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan was carrying out a military operation in Khost and Paktia opposite Kurram Agency and it “timely shares details about the operation within Afghan territory.”
A spokesman for Paktia governor, Abdullah Asrat, said drone strikes killed 35 Taliban fighters, including a commander of Pakistani Taliban, in Afghanistan’s east, near the border with Pakistan, according to Associated Press.
It may be recalled that the American drones have been doing adventurism in the Pakistani tribal belt since 2004. The missile attacks in August 2008 intensified. More than three thousand people died in over 400 hits mostly in North and South Waziristan.
Out of those strikes, 33 were conducted in 2008 and 53 in 2009. However, the notorious drones struck 118 times in 2010 and more than two dozen attacks were launched in 2011. Likewise scores of drone attacks were conducted in the year 2012 killing hundreds of People.
In the year 2014 the drones struck for fifteen times in the Pakistani tribal belt. In the years 2015 and 2016 the ratio of drone attacks, however, remained low.
No doubt, a big majority of the drone’s victims remained the innocent tribals as even admitted by the international watch dogs though the US could also manage to hit few of its wanted men including Mullah Mansoor, Baitullah Masood and Hakimullah Masood.
In the meanwhile amid growing resentment among the masses as well as the political circles of the country against the drone hits, all the appeals made by the successive governments in Pakistan to halt the drone strikes always fell on the deaf ears of those at the helm of affairs in Washington.
Pakistani administration pleads that the drone strikes were proving extremely counterproductive against the so called war on terror as the missile hits only added to the hatred of Pakistani people against America with particular reference to the recently installed Trump administration that is displaying extremely hostile attitude towards Pakistan.