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PARACHINAR: Five suspected militants were killed in a US drone strike at a remote location along the Pak-Afghan border near Kurram Agency on Monday.

Eyewitnesses said the drone strike was followed by heavy bombardment by jet fighters on suspected hideouts of militants in the border region.

While it is yet to establish whether the area falls within the territorial jurisdiction of Pakistan or Afghanistan, locals claimed that the missile fired from the drone targeted a suspected militant hideout in Karar Tangi near Ghuzgarhi — 15 kilometres southwest of Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency.

They said that four drones were seen hovering over the area and at about 5.25pm three of them dropped multiple missiles on a house, where two militant commanders — Abu Bakar Afghani and Abu Bakar Pakistani — were allegedly living.

Area people rushed to the scene and retrieved five bodies. They said the death toll could climb further since many people suffered serious wounds and the rescue work was still under way.

After the drone attack, fighter jets bombed four locations — Saiday Ser, Qambar Ser, Kach Haram and Narry Kandaow — in the same region along the Pak-Afghan border.

Militants hideouts also pounded by jet fighters

Tribal elder Malik Nazeer of the Borki area said the bombardment was so intense that loud explosions heard and plumes of smoke seen from miles away.

The political administration confirmed the drone strike, but said that confusion persisted till late in the night whether it occurred in a Pakistani or Afghan area.

It said that teams had been despatched to the place of the incident to ascertain the exact location and verify the losses.

According to Associated Press, missiles hit a compound being used by militants from the Haqqani network and one of their top commanders, Sangeen Wali, was killed. AP put the death toll at 20.

The American CIA has been taking much interest in Ghuzgarhi — where the latest missile attack took place — and the extensive movement of its unmanned planes in Pakistani airspace, particularly in Kurram Agency, shows a major shift in the US strategy.

A month ago, three people were killed in a drone strike — the first one inside Pakistani territory since US President Donald Trump announced his strategy for war in Afghanistan in August — in the same Ghuzgarhi area. One of the deceased was identified as Maulvi Mohib, said to be a commander of the Haqqani network, the most wanted militant group to the US forces in Afghanistan.

A day before the drone strike, a captain and three soldiers of the Frontier Corps were martyred and three others wounded in two blasts in the Kharlachi area of Kurram Agency.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had said that the blasts happened when troops were searching for the militants who held American Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, and their three children hostage. The US-Canadian family was freed last week in the tribal region.

US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale said in a statement: “These personnel were searching for the kidnappers of a US citizen and her family”, according to Reuters. “We remain extremely grateful for the Pakistani military’s quick response and successful humanitarian operation allowing Caitlan Coleman and her family to return home safely.”

The family was freed when the Pakistan army shot out the tyres of a vehicle carrying the family during a rescue operation based on intelligence shared by US authorities in the tribal region on Oct 11.

President Trump described the rescue as a “positive moment” for US-Pakistan relations.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2017