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Pakistani Taliban squeezed by Afghan revolt, U.S. drone strikes

PESHAWAR: Pakistani Taliban militants holed up in Afghanistan are being squeezed by a series of U.S. drone strikes and a revolt against them, a trend that could disrupt the insurgents’ capability to strike inside Pakistan.

For years, Pakistani Taliban commanders fighting against the Pakistani state have been hiding in remote areas of eastern Afghanistan, planning attacks and recruiting fighters.

But in recent weeks, officials say the insurgency has been weakened by a spate strikes by U.S. drones and a rebellion by tribesmen in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are allied and share the goal of toppling their respective governments and setting up a strict Islamist state across the region.

Their presence on both sides of the border has long been a bone of contention between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the two trading accusations of sheltering insurgents and not doing enough to stop them.

But the ascent to power of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani this year has raised hopes the neighbors could do more to tackle the insurgency together.

Four Pakistani Taliban commanders told Reuters drone strikes and tension with tribesmen had forced them to move from small Afghan towns to mountainous border areas.

Two of them said they narrowly missed being hit by U.S. drones last month. There is no complete record of drone strikes in Afghanistan so it was not possible to verify their claims.

A strike on Nov. 24 hit a house where Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah had stayed the night before and killed two commanders, one Taliban commander said.

Relations between Pakistani Taliban fighters and tribesmen have also deteriorated – a trend Afghan forces are trying to exploit.

Kunar governor Shuja-ul Mulk Jalala said there was an uprising in the Dangam district 11 days ago.

“Villagers, backed by a unit of Afghan police and army launched an operation against the Pakistani Taliban,” he said.

Jalala said villagers had complained of Pakistani Taliban harassment and the militants sometimes attacked Afghan forces.

“Villagers asked for some support and weapons to fight them. Tribal elders complained that there were no difference between good or bad Taliban and decided to drive them out,” Jalala said.

A militant commander in Pakistan’s Bajaur border region, opposite Kunar, said Afghan forces had recently detained a number of Pakistani militants.

“Previously, they would avoid visiting areas where our people were staying and even provided food to some of our people but now they’re creating problems,” said another militant commander said of Afghan forces. -Reuters

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