WANA, Sept 9: Air Force planes on Thursday bombed what the military called a terrorist training facility in the South Waziristan Agency, killing at least 50 foreign and local militants. Private TV channels and foreign news agencies put the toll at over 60.
Official sources in Peshawar told Dawn that F-7s jets began the operation at around 6am and dropped bombs on the terrorist training camp in Bad Awaz Garang in the Kaikhel area, about 70km to the northwest of Wana, the regional headquarters of South Waziristan.
The raid lasted about an hour, the sources said. "It was a confirmed training camp. There was no doubt about it," an official said. The air strikes left about 50 dead and 20 wounded, the official said and added: "These are estimates. We do not have any confirmed casualty figure yet."
The Inter-Services Public Relations also put the figure at 50. "There were confirmed reports of training activity being conducted by foreign elements, including Uzbeks, Chechens and a few Arabs," an ISPR statement said.
"The facility was successfully knocked out through a precisely-targeted operation which lasted for about two hours," the statement added. The official said the training camp, located in the foothills of Kaikhel close to a stream, was heavily guarded and was off-limit to even the local Broomikhel Mehsud tribesmen.
"Nobody could dare enter the area. There was a general scare and intelligence-gathering was extremely difficult," he said. "But the presence of foreign militants there was quite significant and there were reports that Tahir Yaldashev also frequented the camp," the official said, referring to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader, who escaped a military operation in the tribal region in March.
Another official said the authorities had contacted local tribesmen once the presence of the training camp was confirmed and told them to close it down. One such meeting between the tribesmen and the authorities was held on Aug 8.
"There was a realization that it was beyond the capacity of tribesmen to confront the militants and, therefore, the air strikes were ordered," the official said.
He said among the 50 dead, at least 35 to 40 could be foreign militants, the rest could be their local comrades. The ISPR statement said the trained terrorists were indulging in sabotage and terrorist acts in the country.
"This is what we have heard from the local population. Nobody has entered the area and there has been no body count yet. What we hear are all pure estimates," the official said.
Local people acknowledged the presence of four militant hideouts in the area but said those killed included some civilians who had gone to collect the bodies but came under a second round of bombing an hour after the first attack.
"The casualty figure is much higher and among those killed are mostly women and children," said a local tribal elder. A government report put the death toll in the twin-bombing raid at 45.
Meanwhile, according to reports reaching here a military convoy on its way to the west of Ludda sub-division was attacked by local militants near Karwan Manza, a mountainous area about 72km to the west of Wana.
Troops called for air cover and according to reports reaching here late in the evening, fierce fighting was continuing and heavy weapons were being used. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.
Fighter jets were also pressed into action but official sources said air strikes were called off as the evening set in. "But the fighting is still going on," said a source.
The bombings have come in the wake of a recent spurt in attacks on security forces. At least eight civilians were killed and 10 others wounded in what the military said was an exchange of fire between security forces and militants on Wednesday.
Officials acknowledge that the Waziristan region remained a bastion of militants despite the recent military operation in Shakai and adjoining Khamrang, Santoi and Mantoi areas.