- Pak Army spokesperson says no drone strike has taken place in Kurram Agency
- Foreign minister says for talks to be successful, US should refrain from attacking anywhere—be it Pakistan or Afghanistan
PESHAWAR/RAWALPINDI: Two suspected US drone strikes on Tuesday killed 11 people, while “critically injuring” Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) chief Umar Khalid Khurasani on the mountainous Pakistan-Afghanistan border, following a strike a day earlier that killed 20, government and militant sources said, as Pakistan’s foreign minister urged the US to refrain from such attacks to pave the way for peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistan Army spokesperson, on the other hand, has said that no drone strike has taken place in the Kurram Agency.
“There has been no air violation along Pak-Afghan border in that area or any drone strike in Kurram Agency,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement issued the same day.
The attacks came days after a Canadian-American couple held hostage by the Taliban was freed from the area.
On Friday, US drones were seen hovering near where American Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, and their three children, all born in captivity, were freed, after having been kidnapped by the Haqqani network while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012.
“Four unmanned drones fired six missiles in Monday’s attack, and four more were dropped in two strikes on Tuesday,” Baseer Khan Wazir, the top administrative official in the Kurram Agency, said.
The drones fired missiles on Taliban hideouts, killing at least 31 people over two days, he added, with all three attacks taking place on the Afghan side. “Twenty people were killed yesterday, mostly from the Afghan Taliban, and 11 more were killed in today’s attacks,” Wazir said.
Taliban sources said 18 members of Haqqani militants, allied with the Taliban, were killed in Monday’s strike and six in one of Tuesday’s attacks.
“There were some mud-built houses which were being used by the mujahideen (Afghan Taliban fighters),” said a member of the Afghan Taliban, who asked not to be identified.
No prominent militants were in the area when the drones targeted two or three different compounds, he added.
Another Taliban source said two commanders were killed in Monday’s attack, however. Witnesses said they heard the drones and saw plumes of smoke before seeing 20 makeshift coffins moved out of the area.
Residents of the area said the strikes were no more than 300 meters (yards) from the Pakistan side of the border. “There are always drones hovering over this border area, but this was the first time four drones were noticed at the same time,” said Kurram resident Gulab Sher.
FM ASIF CALLS FOR RESTRAINT:
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, speaking to a private media outlet on Tuesday, said the US should try and limit drone strikes when efforts to revive Afghan-Taliban peace dialogue are underway.
“At a time when a [peace] process is restarting, I think that the US should refrain from attacking anywhere—be it Pakistan or Afghanistan—for the talks to be successful.”
“In Pakistan, an attack within our geographical limits is a clear violation, we definitely take offence. We [will] definitely take it up with the US that such violations are counterproductive.”
He also reiterated that Pakistan wants relations with the US based on equality.
It is as yet unclear what impact, if any, the drone strikes will have on the push to revive amicable relations with the US.
In June this year, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had warned that unilateral actions like drone strikes were counterproductive to the fight against terrorism.
Drone strikes are “counterproductive and against [the] spirit of ongoing cooperation and intelligence sharing being diligently undertaken by Pakistan,” he was quoted as saying by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army’s media wing.
“Pakistan Army is capable of taking effective measure if actionable intelligence is shared,” he had said.
ARMY DENIES DRONE STRIKES IN KURRAM:
What made the situation all the more confusing was when Pakistan Army spokesperson said that no drone strike took place in the Kurram Agency.
The military said that the military operation were being conducted in Khost and Paktia areas of Afghanistan by the Resolute Support Mission (RSM)/Afghan forces and the area is opposite the Kurram Agency.
During the last 24 hours, a number of air engagements have taken place in those areas inside Afghanistan with reports of heavy losses to militants. As a follow up of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Afghanistan, coordination between the forces has enhanced.
The ISPR statement said that the Resolute Support Mission timely shared details about the operation within the Afghan territory. Based on timely sharing, the Pakistan Army is vigilant as anvil on own side along the border, the statement added.
It said that the Resolute Support Mission, the coalition force operating in the country against the Taliban and Daesh, was sharing details about the operation within Afghan territory, and the Pakistan Army is vigilant in its own area along the border area.
JAMAAT-UL-AHRAR CHIEF ‘CRITICALLY INJURED’:
As per media reports, Umar Khalid Khurasani was also “critically injured” in the US drone strike.
Khurasani, being critically injured in the attack, was moved to an undisclosed location, sources said.
The commander of the banned militant group hails from Mohmand Agency—one of the seven agencies in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—and goes by the alias Abdul Wali.
In July, Pakistan welcomed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) decision to include JuA in the list of entities subject to travel bans, arms embargos and freezing of assets.
The JuA based in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan has been involved in a series of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Pakistan had proscribed JuA in 2016. The group has been involved in more than 100 terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil.