ISLAMABAD, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- A counter-terror operation by Pakistani security resulted in 33 militants being killed in the Northwest Frontier Province.
Pakistan's NWFP, which shares a 1,510-mile border with Afghanistan, has been the epicenter of Pakistan's struggle against terrorism.
Pakistani security forces Tuesday claimed that they killed 33 militants associated with the banned Lashkar-i-Islam and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan guerrilla organizations. During the operation, Pakistani air force jets attacked the LI and TTP sites in Pakistan's remote Tirah Valley, situated in the NWFP's Khyber agency and Orakzai agency's Mamozai region.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported Wednesday that security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the air attacks also destroyed LI and TTP ammunition and logistic depots in the Dawatoi, Bara Gat, Wocha Wona and Nakai areas of the Khyber Agency.
The militants disputed the government's claims, with TPP spokesman Ehsanullah Eshan stating that his organization had lost only two fighters in the strikes and most of the people killed were civilians.
"I can confirm that jets have targeted civilians' houses on the border of Orakzai Agency, in Kokikhels area and there is confirmation of civilian deaths, including women and children," he said. "Our bases are safe enough to escape the bombing and we know how to remain safe in the area."
Underling the chaos in the province, TTP is also battling Ansar ul-Islam militants, which has a history of fighting against fellow militant Islamist groups in the region. Khyber Agency residents are crediting AI for fiercely resisting the TTP, with more than 80 civilians and fighters dying in skirmishes between the groups in the Kyber Agency's Tirah region.
AI spokesman Sadaat said the TTP militants had been targeting the local population and subsequently the AI rose to root them out.
During a clash Sunday between the groups, 21 AI militants were killed, while 32 TTP fighters died and three were captured. AI spokesman Sadat Afridi claimed that they had captured three TTP bases and that the fight continued at a fourth base.
Afridi stated that AI is determined to expel TTP militants from Tirah Valley as they "carry out attacks on mosques and public places, which is against Islam" and that AI would not allow the TTP to continue "killing innocent Muslims in the name of religion."
The Khyber Agency is among Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal districts near the Afghan border and is a hotbed of militant activity, with many extremist organizations including the al-Qaida.
The convoluted situation underlines the Pakistani government's difficulties in stabilizing the region.
LI (the "Army of Islam,"), was founded in 2004 by Mufti Munir Shakir and is currently headed by Mangal Bagh, who in 2008 claimed that LI has more than 180,000 members in the Khyber Agency.
The TTP, ("Student Movement of Pakistan") is sometimes referred to as the "Pakistani Taliban," and consists of a loose affiliation of various Islamist militant groups based in the NWFP.TTP's stated goals are resistance against the Pakistani state, enforcement of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law and uniting against NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. The TTP isn't directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar.
Ansar ul Islam was founded in June 2006 by Pakistani Deobandi madrassah clerics, and the group was banned by the Pakistan government in June 2008.