Pakistan denies US drone strike targeted insurgents on its soil

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2017

Pakistan denies US drone strike targeted insurgents on its soil

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.”

Pardoned Australian filmmaker to be deported from Cambodia

In this Aug. 29, 2018, file photo, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, right, is helped off a prisoner truck upon his arrival at Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP)
Updated 44 min 41 sec ago

Pardoned Australian filmmaker to be deported from Cambodia

  • Ricketson repeatedly insisted he had no political agenda and his work making documentary films was journalistic in nature

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia: An Australian filmmaker was awaiting deportation from Cambodia on Saturday after receiving a royal pardon for his conviction on spying charges for flying a drone over a political rally.
A spokesman for immigration police said that James Ricketson will be deported on Saturday morning, a day after being released from prison.
“We are now checking a flight for him,” Gen. Keo Vanthan told The Associated Press.
Ricketson, 69, was sentenced to six years in a trial his sympathizers described as farcical because prosecutors never specified whom he was spying for and failed to present evidence that he possessed or transmitted any secrets. He had been detained without bail since June last year in harsh conditions.
He was arrested after flying a drone to photograph a rally of the Cambodian National Rescue Party — the only credible opposition party that was later dissolved by the courts at the instigation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
His pardon is the latest in a series of releases of political prisoners after the ruling party’s landslide victory in a July election that critics and observers said was deeply flawed.
Ricketson repeatedly insisted he had no political agenda and his work making documentary films was journalistic in nature.
His Aug. 31 conviction was met with only lukewarm public concern from Australia’s prime minister and foreign minister. Their public stance was criticized, but also led to speculation that an understanding might have been reached with Cambodian authorities for Ricketson’s early release.
Ricketson’s lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said Friday that his client would go first to Phnom Penh and then travel to Australia.
“James will go back to his home country after he is released, but later he will be back to Cambodia because the pardon letter doesn’t bar him from re-entering Cambodia,” he said. However, there is no official statement guaranteeing he will be readmitted.
Ricketson had said during his trial that he wished to re-establish a project that he had launched before his arrest to buy some land to resettle several poor Cambodian families who have been living at a garbage dump. He and several character witnesses had testified that he provided financial assistance to several poverty stricken Cambodians.