DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani jet fighters killed 30 militants allied to the Pakistani Taliban in a missile attack in the mountainous northwestern Khyber region on Wednesday, including the group’s spokesman, intelligence officials said.
The air force has been pounding positions in the Tirah Valley for days and the military says it has killed scores. At least seven soldiers have also been killed.
The 30 killed in Wednesday’s attack in the Sipah district were from the Lashkar-e-Islam, which announced an alliance with the Taliban earlier this month, the intelligence officials said.
The casualties included group spokesman Salahuddin Ayubi, the officials said.
Members of the group said they could neither confirm nor deny the intelligence officials’ version of events and said they were checking.
A U.S. drone strike killed 11 Pakistani Taliban militants in Kunar in northeastern Afghanistan, intelligence officials said on Wednesday, hours after a strike killed at least nine militants in the same area. They said six or seven senior Taliban commanders had been killed, a claim the Taliban denied.
“I am sitting here in Kunar along with several other people but our fighters and commanders haven’t been killed in a drone strike,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Taliban faction, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, told Reuters.
The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share a similar jihadist ideology but operate as separate entities.
No one tracks drone strikes in Afghanistan - many of them take place in remote regions and are not reported - but Taliban commanders say that fighters there have been increasingly targeted since late last year.
The strikes come amid warming relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, traditionally hostile neighbours who each accuse the other of harbouring insurgents to act as proxy forces.
Relations improved after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was elected last year. Pakistan says it is supporting potential peace talks between the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban.
Reporting by Saud Mehsud and Jibran Ahmad; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore