MIRAMSHAH, Aug 24: Eighteen people died and another six were injured when missiles fired by US drones slammed into suspected militants’ hideouts in Shawal area of North Waziristan Agency on Friday, sources said.

Three compounds reported to be used as hideouts by the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan were targeted in the area adjacent to Afghanistan.

Official sources said that 10 missiles were fired at these compounds. Two vehicles were destroyed in the attack.

The compounds are located in Tenda Darra, Muka Gher and Dry Nashter areas of Shawal subdivision.

Local people said that six to eight unmanned planes kept hovering over the area for most of the day.

This was the fifth drone strike in the area this month and second since Tuesday, the second day of Eid. Drones have struck three targets in Shawal and one attack was carried out in Shna Khwra near Miramshah. A total of 38 people have been killed and 15 wounded in the five strikes.

Independent sources have no access to the remote Shawal valley to verify the number of casualties in Friday’s strikes. However, officials in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan Agency, said 18 people were killed and six injured.

Agencies add: A senior security official in Peshawar speaking on condition of anonymity said US drones fired a total of six missiles on Friday, two each on three separate compounds.

Officials said the area targeted was used by militants belonging to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Afghan Taliban allied with the Haqqani network and Hafiz Gul Bahadur group.

Another security official confirmed the strikes and said the identities of the dead were not immediately clear.

“We are gradually getting information of new strike from the area which is mountainous and covered by thick forest,” he said.

Hundreds of militants and their family members have streamed out of North Waziristan in the past few days in anticipation of a military operation, local residents said.

The US has increased drone strikes in the past week in North Waziristan, ignoring repeated Pakistani protests that they violate the country’s sovereignty and international law.

The covert CIA attacks have increasingly become a point of public conflict between the two countries, complicating an already troubled relationship that is vital to the outcome of war in Afghanistan.

The Americans view the public denunciations of the strikes as a political tool to appease the majority of Pakistanis who disapprove of the missile attacks, and insist they have no intention of holstering a key weapon in the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants who threaten the West.

Last Saturday, a US drone struck a militant hideout in North Waziristan, killing five allies of a powerful warlord, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose forces often reportedly attack US troops in Afghanistan. On Sunday, US drones fired a flurry of missiles into the area, killing 10 suspected militants in two strikes. On Tuesday, missiles targeting a vehicle in North Waziristan killed five more suspected militants.

Pakistani military officials have said they will slowly increase pressure on the militants in North Waziristan, rather than conduct a sweeping offensive in the area.

North Waziristan is the only area in Pakistan’s tribal region where the military has not conducted an offensive.

Militants fleeing region

Many of the militants who started fleeing North Waziristan in vehicles on Thursday were, according to local residents, from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, out of fear for their safety. They also included some Arabs and fighters from Chechnya.

Pakistani Taliban militants were seen patrolling the area, but did not seem to be fleeing. Some local tribesmen were looking for homes outside of North Waziristan to which they could flee, but did not seem overly concerned about reports of an upcoming military operation.

By Friday, around 1,000 people, including wives and children of the foreign militants, had fled from four villages surrounding Mir Ali, one of the main towns in North Waziristan, said locals.


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