Pakistani airstrikes in Khyber kill 45


The Pakistani military killed 45 civilians and extremists during airstrikes that targeted a meeting, or jirga, in the Tirah Valley in Khyber. The jirga was organized by a local tribe and was attended by members of the Lashkar-e-Islam, a Taliban-like group that operates in Khyber.

"They first hit a house where our people were present and minutes later, when people got there to remove bodies from the rubble, jets attacked again," a Lashkar-e-Islam fighter told Dawn. The Pakistani military confirmed it carried out the strike but said it targeted terrorists, not civilians.

Today's strike took place just one day after Pakistani strike aircraft hit a "private prison" in the Tirah Valley which was also operated by Lashkar-e-Islam. Ten of the prisoners, who were being held for ransom, and two Lashkar-e-Islam fighters were killed in the airstrike.

The Taliban have been active in Khyber, attacking both Pakistani security outposts and NATO supply columns moving through the region. On March 31, the Taliban killed six Frontier Corps troops during an assault on a military outpost in the Bara region. The Frontier Corps repelled the attack and claimed to have killed 20 Taliban fighters.

Attacks on NATO supply convoys moving through Khyber have also increased lately. On April 5, the Taliban torched eight NATO fuel tankers in Khyber. Two days later, the Taliban bombed another fuel tanker.

The Khyber Pass is NATO's main conduit for supplies into Afghanistan; an estimated 70 percent of NATO's supplies move through this strategic crossing point. The Taliban forced the Khyber Pass to be shut down seven times between September 2007 and April 2008 due to attacks.

The Lashkar-e-Islam and other groups, such as Hakeemullah Mehsud's branch of the Pakistani Taliban, have gained power in Khyber despite a series of military operations that began in the summer of 2007 which were supposedly designed to relieve Taliban pressure on neighboring Peshawar. A total of five military offensives have failed to dislodge the terror groups.

The leader of Lashkar-e-Islam, Mangal Bagh, claims that he does not support the Taliban. But Bagh has carved out a Taliban-like state in his territory in Khyber, and sends forces across the border to attack US and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. In November 2008, the US military attacked Taliban forces in the Tirah Valley after they retreated across the border from Nangarhar in Afghanistan. US strike aircraft and artillery killed seven Taliban fighters during the hot pursuit.

Both the Lashkar-e-Islam and the Taliban are known to operate bases and training camps in the Tirah Valley, as well as in the Bara and Jamrud regions in Khyber. These safe havens enable these terror groups to launch attacks inside Pakistan as well across the border in Afghanistan.

Khyber has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaeda activity since the Pakistani military launched an operation in the Mehsud tribal areas in South Waziristan in October 2009. Taliban forces have also relocated to the Bara region and the Tirah Valley in the Khyber [see LWJ report, "Taliban escape South Waziristan operation"]. Tariq Afridi, a powerful Taliban commander based in Darra Adam Khel, has taken control of Taliban operations in Khyber.



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistani airstrikes in Khyber kill 45"

Posted by KaneKaizer at April 10, 2010 4:30 PM ET:

Nowadays I tend to rule out the reports that all of the dead are civilians. Would be great if they were all militants but since they still bring civilian shields around with them I wouldn't be surprised if some were killed also.

Posted by Marlin at April 10, 2010 9:48 PM ET:

The Pakistani Army shows a dogged determination to keep pounding away at the Taliban. One wonders whether or not it can eventually cause the Pakistani Taliban to reach a point where they are willing to negotiate.

Pakistani airstrikes killed nearly 100 suspected militants in two northwest tribal regions Saturday, an apparent intensification of efforts by the army to mop up Taliban fighters fleeing a military operation farther south.

[...]

In Orakzai, some 54 alleged militants were killed during ongoing clashes over a checkpoint in the Baizoti town area, local official Samiullah Khan told The Associated Press.

Dawn: Strikes in Orakzai, Khyber kill 96 militants

Posted by Minnor at April 11, 2010 1:53 AM ET:

Khyber orakzai kurram triangle is finally being sanitised. They are not using army here, instead frontier corps just like in Damadola in Bajaur last month.
200k idps from there according to UN, which is less compared to 2.2m idps from Swat operation.

Posted by Zeissa at April 11, 2010 8:07 AM ET:

You crack me up Marlin.

Posted by Neo at April 11, 2010 3:40 PM ET:

"One wonders whether or not it can eventually cause the Pakistani Taliban to reach a point where they are willing to negotiate."

They will only negotiate when they absolutely have too, than only for the purposes of survival. In other words; It's still too early. If Pakistan takes Orakazi and Northern Waziristan this year, than this will be a very different ball game. That will not wipe out the Taliban, but they will have to resort to less desirable enclaves to run their operations from. At that point the Taliban might consider negotiating in order to regroup.

Posted by JRP at April 11, 2010 6:00 PM ET:

Haven't heard much about drone strikes lately. Obviously both high value AQ & Taliban targets and low value AQ & Taliban targets are surrounding themselves with women and children or dressing like women to take advantage of U.S.A. self-imposed restraint on causing collateral damage. President Obama's recent speach about terrorist acquisition of nukes being threat #1 tells me our intelligence sources are sending the White House red flags about probable AQ recent successes in moving closer to "retail" acquisition of one or more nukes. We have to stop simply trying to cajole Pakistan into capturing or killing AQ leadership and move into the tribal belt with our own ground forces to root out AQ before they strike us again. Watch the signposts. When our Executive/Legislative/Judicial/Military honchos start quietly moving their families out of the Beltway, you'll know something's up and it ain't good.

Posted by BraddS at April 12, 2010 5:11 AM ET:

Wonder if the AfPaks have ANY idea how lucky they are that our own government forbids and prevents us from raising a People's Army, and how many millions of Americans would GLADLY leave their homes and loved ones at this point to travel their and kill every last one of them...

Posted by T Ruth at April 12, 2010 5:51 AM ET:

JRP, well said.

And from a Reuters report:
"Nuclear non-proliferation experts say there are no known instances of terrorist groups obtaining highly enriched uranium or plutonium that could be used to make a crude nuclear bomb but note there have been 18 cases of nuclear material being stolen or going missing since the early 1990s"

What I don't get is that while Iran is still working on building a weapon, PAQISTAN ALREADY HAS THEM! And there is a worrisome lack of urgency about dealing with this.

The World would've missed an opportunity if Paqistan's arsenal is not wrested away at this juncture, i mean by hook, not by crooks.