US president says use of drones is “kept on very tight leash” in rare acknowledgement of controversial missile strikes.
|Troops and Taliban have battled repeatedly after the government launched an offensive to clear Kurram [Reuters]|
Fighting between government soldiers and Taliban fighters over a strategic mountaintop in northwestern Pakistan has killed more than 38 people, a government official says.
The battle first started a week ago when government troops seized the top of Jogi mountain in the Kurram tribal area from the Taliban, sparking deadly clashes.
The fighters’ retaliated by attacking the soldiers holding the post on Tuesday. The attack left 30 Taliban and eight Pakistani soldiers dead, according to the official.
Helicopter gunships were mobilised after “more than 300 Taliban attacked” the checkpost at around midnight, a senior military official told AFP news agency.
The area is home to fighters loyal to Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud.
The military launched an offensive in Kurram in July 2011 and declared victory about a month later, but violence has continued.
A similar process has taken place throughout Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region along the Afghan border. The military has launched a series of operations against the Pakistani Taliban in the past few years, and has often declared victory only to see fighting flare up again.
The tribal areas have also been targeted by US unmanned drones in an attempt to dismantle sanctuaries for al-Qaeda affiliated groups such as the Taliban.
On Monday, the US president, in a rare public acknowledgement, confirmed that the drones have regularly struck tribal areas.
Barack Obama said “a lot” of the strikes had targeted “al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), along the border with Afghanistan, long believed to be a hub of activity for armed groups.
“For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in,” the president said.