September 11, 2015 / 3:00 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. drone strike kills 15 Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed at least 15 Pakistani militants in Afghanistan’s Gomal district on Wednesday, intelligence officials said on Friday, part of an intensifying drone campaign against Pakistani militants in Afghanistan.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Wednesday’s strike in an area bordering Pakistan’s South Waziristan region.

“Fifteen dead bodies of killed militants will be shifted soon to their native areas in Dera Ismail Khan,” one intelligence official said, referring to a town in northwestern Pakistan.

Three officials confirmed the 15 militants belonged to the Gandapur faction of the Pakistani Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah, who claimed responsibility for the massacre of more than 130 pupils at an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar last December.

Tracking of drone strikes in Afghanistan is patchy - 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 a week after Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to end a blame game over a spate of militant attacks and work to restore trust.

Traditionally hostile neighbors, the two countries accuse each other of doing too little to prevent Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants from operating on their territory.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made closer ties with Pakistan a priority when he took office last year, hoping Islamabad could push Afghan Taliban leaders to the negotiating table to end Afghanistan’s long war.

The relationship appeared to yield fruit in July with groundbreaking official peace talks with the militants.

But after confirmation of the death of the group’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, the process was suspended and the Taliban launched a wave of attacks in Kabul, killing more than 50 people and souring relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s foreign policy chief visited the Afghan capital Kabul last week for a regional economic conference and also held meetings with the president, foreign minister and national security adviser.

But officials on both sides said peace talks with Afghan Taliban leaders were not discussed.

Reporting by Saud Mehsud; writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Mike Collett-White

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