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Pakistan denies US drone strike targeted insurgents on its soil

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. (Reuters)
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif denied that Monday’s US drone strike near the porous Pak-Afghan border targeted insurgents on Pakistani soil.

Speaking to an English daily on Tuesday, Asif said the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not clearly demarcated, which could cause uncertainty about which side of the border the attack took place on.

The onslaught of missiles reportedly targeted a meeting of the Haqqani network of insurgents in Kurram, a remote tribal agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, near the Afghan border.

Officials told AFP that the death toll from a US drone attack on a compound used by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network has risen to 26.

“The first drone strike killed five fighters from the Haqqani network and, minutes after, a second drone then fired two more missiles after militants arrived to retrieve dead bodies from the rubble,” said a senior government official in Kurram. “So far 26 dead bodies have been retrieved and drones are still flying in the sky.”

No fatalities were reported from two drone strikes on Tuesday in Afghanistan's Paktia province, bordering Kurram Agency. A total of four drone attacks were reported this week and eyewitnesses said drones have been present in the area since Monday.

There has been a notable decline in drone strikes in Pakistan under US President Donald Trump’s administration, compared to the previous two administrations, Asif said. He claimed that was testament to his ruling party’s success in eliminating terrorism in the country.

Asif also stated that Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban has decreased, while that of other countries bordering Afghanistan has increased.

A statement issued by Pakistan Army’s public relations arm, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), also denied reports of US drone strikes in its territory.

“There has been no air violation along the Pak-Afghan border in that area, nor any drone strike in Kurram (despite reports),” it said.

It clarified that “Military operations are being conducted in Khost and Paktia, Afghanistan by Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and Afghan Forces, opposite Kurram Agency,” adding that “during the last 24 hours, a number of air engagements have taken place in those areas inside Afghanistan with reports of heavy losses to terrorists.”

ISPR added, “Following the (Chief of Army Staff’s) visit to Afghanistan, coordination between the forces has enhanced. RSM quickly shared details about said operation within Afghan territory.

“Better security coordination will take both countries towards enduring peace and stability defeating the common enemy,” it concluded.

Contrary to this statement, however, security officials earlier confirmed to Arab News that a US drone attack which took place at 13:55 on Sept. 15 had killed three Afghan militants in Ghuz Ghari village in Kurram Agency, approximately 1 km inside Pakistan territory. The Foreign Office denied that claim.

An official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media, told Arab News that the target was a high-value former Taliban militant, who apparently survived the strike as he was at Friday prayers.

A retired Pakistani intelligence official told Arab News that a tacit agreement between the US and Pakistan still exists and that Islamabad has adopted a policy of “plausible deniability” on drone strikes.

“Nearly every strike has been made in close coordination with us,” he said. “They don’t unilaterally select and strike a target without our consent and assistance.”