Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Civilians among dead in Pakistani air strikes on militants

Up to 45 Taliban killed as well as relatives and other civilians in Pakistani strikes in Khyber region near Afghan border

Pakistani government air raids have killed up to 45 militants, their family members and other civilians with no ties to the fighters, officials said today.

Taliban militants were targeted in three strikes last night in one of their strongholds in the Tirah valley, in the north-western Khyber region on the Afghan border.

"We have reports that 40 to 45 terrorists were killed," said a security official. "Some of the families were living in the vicinity of these hideouts and they were also among the dead."

Pakistani forces have stepped up air strikes against activists, in Khyber and adjoining Pashtun tribal lands in recent months. Many of the activists fled military offensives last year in the Taliban strongholds of Swat and South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan.

Air strikes could undermine efforts to win over civilians in the fight against the Taliban. Rehan Khattak, a senior government official in Khyber, said six civilians, including women and children, were killed in one of the strikes. He said the victims had nothing to do with militants.

"Four people were also wounded. They were members of Kokikhel," said Khattak, referring to the pro-government Pashtun tribe that dominates Khyber.

Anar Bacha, 32, who was wounded in the attacks, said the victims were innocent. "We were going to our home in a cab when all of a sudden planes appeared and began targeting us," he said. "We are innocent. We are Kokikhels. We are not terrorists."

In April, up to 50 members of the same tribe were killed in an air raid in Tirah after they were mistaken for the Taliban, prompting an apology from the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
Khyber is a key route for US and allied convoys carrying supplies for troops in Afghanistan. Fighters frequently attack these convoys, forcing the US to look at alternative routes.

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