MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: Twenty-four people, including suspected militants, were killed and a number of others injured in a deadly missile attack by US spy planes in the remote Shawal Valley of North Waziristan on Wednesday.
Tribal sources and government officials said the drones fired four missiles, hitting a double cabin pickup truck as soon as it entered a house in the forested and mountainous Shawal Valley, 75 kilometres west of North Waziristan’s main town, Miramshah.
According to sources, four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were seen flying in the area during the missile strike on the house. The drones have rarely been seen targeting suspected hideouts of militants in Shawal Valley, which is considered safer due to dense forests. Also, the area is far away from major populated areas such as Miramshah and Dattakhel and those tasked to spy on the Taliban for the CIA and other spy networks are facing difficulties in accessing the area. The valley is close to Afghanistan’s Paktika province and also the South Waziristan tribal region.
Some tribesmen felt it seemed the drones were following the double cabin pickup truck carrying some people, suspected to be militants, from somewhere near the Afghan border. According to tribal sources, the drones were circling overhead and started firing missiles when the vehicle entered the house. The vehicle caught fire and was blown to pieces.
Tribesmen living in the valley said local people arrived on the spot an hour after the attack and retrieved the bodies and injured trapped under the debris of the destroyed building. Most of those riding the vehicle were killed on the spot and their bodies mutilated beyond recognition.
Two other missiles pounded the house, where 14 people were reportedly killed and six others injured. The injured were first taken to a local private clinic and then sent to health facilities down country for treatment. There was no way to ascertain identity of the victims. However, some reports suggested that the victims included some tribal and Punjabi militants.
There were also reports that some foreign fighters, including Afghans, were killed in the attack, but tribal sources in the area did not confirm it. Militants usually do not allow villagers to visit the site of the missile attack but tribesmen in Shawal said they went there and contributed to the rescue work.
The attack took place at a time when the government and members of the peace committee in North Waziristan have been trying to strengthen their ties and prevent a confrontation between the armed forces and tribal militants. The US drones have frequently been targeting the North and South Waziristan tribal regions where the government has signed peace accords with local tribes and Taliban groups.
Some tribal elders in North Waziristan have welcomed the recent steps taken by the government to reopen the Razmak Cadet College, remove two roadside security checkpoints and start work on the Bannu-Ghulam Khan Highway up to the Afghan border for winning hearts and minds of the tribesmen.
The elders said the Wednesday’s deadly drone attack in the tribal region and killing of 24 people in one day pointed to the frustration and anger among US military commanders after Pakistan’s reluctance to launch an Army operation in North Waziristan.
AFP adds: The US missiles struck a “militant training camp” close to the Afghan border, security officials said. The camp in the Shawal area was run by fighters loyal to Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose loyalists attack in Afghanistan. The camp was targeted by five US missiles at around 12 noon, the officials said.
Local residents described the camp as a major training centre on the top of a hill surrounded by trees and ice cold natural springs. The Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and foreign militant networks are also known to operate in the remote mountains of Shawal, enveloped in thick forest.
The Wednesday’s strike came two days after US missiles killed 18 militants in neighbouring South Waziristan, the deadliest strikes for months. Pakistan has come under mounting American pressure to open a ground offensive in North Waziristan, considered the premier bastion of Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants, since US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden on May 2. But Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all operations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, last week played down the “hype” about the prospect of an imminent offensive. “We will undertake an operation in North Waziristan when we want to,” he told reporters.