The death toll from a U.S. drone attack on a compound used by the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network has risen to 26, officials said on Tuesday, less than a week after a U.S.-Canadian family held captive by the militants was rescued.
The barrage on Monday targeted a meeting of Haqqani fighters in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency along the Afghan border in the deadliest attack on the group this year. “First drone strike killed five fighters from Haqqani Network and minutes apart a second drone then fired two more missiles after militants arrived to retrieve dead bodies from the rubble,” a senior government official in Kurram told AFP on Tuesday. “So far 26 dead bodies have been retrieved and drones are still flying in the sky,” the official said.
Pakistan has routinely denied drone strikes on its soil in the past. The U.S. has increased pressure on Pakistan in recent months to crack down on the outfit.
A second government official in Kurram confirmed the drone strikes and the new death toll. Both officials said the strikes took place on the border with Afghanistan, with part of the compound sited in Afghan territory.
The military however denied a drone strike took place in Pakistani territory. “There has been no air violation along Pak-Afg border in that area nor any drone strike in Kurram Agency, as being misreported by [a] few,” the military spokesman said in a statement. But “military operations” were being conducted close to Kurram on the Afghan side, the statement added.
The Haqqanis are one of the strongest factions in the Afghan Taliban insurgency and have earned a fearsome reputation for their vicious attacks on NATO troops and Afghan installations over the years. The group has long been suspected of having ties to Pakistan’s security establishment, souring relations with Washington.
Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations of turning a blind eye to militancy, lambasting the United States for ignoring the thousands who have been killed on its soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.