By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - The United States on Thursday rejected Pakistan’s claim that American forces were behind a reported drone strike in northwestern Kurram agency tribal region near Afghanistan border, which killed two suspected militants on Jan. 24.
The U.S. Embassy Islamabad spokesperson, Rick Sinelsine, told local broadcaster Dawn News: “Pakistan’s claim that the U.S. forces have struck an Afghan refugee camp in Kurram agency is false.”
Sinelsine, however, did not elaborate if there was any drone strike in the region on that day.
Pakistan insists the drone strike took place in Kurram agency – one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan.
“The drone strike on Jan. 24 in Spintal, Hangu district, was on individual target who had morphed into Afghan refugees and not any organized terrorist sanctuary, which have been eliminated,” a statement from the Pakistani military’s mouthpiece -- Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) -- said on Thursday.
It added that “Pakistan’s brotherly hospitality to peaceful Afghan refugees must not be exploited by the terrorists.”
Islamabad already appears to be reluctant to increase the deadline for return of Afghan refugees despite requests from refugees themselves. And rights groups, which view the security situation in the war-ravaged country as non-conducive for the repatriation of over 2.5 million documented and undocumented refugees.
Already frosty relations between the U.S. and Pakistan -- the two allies in so-called war against terrorism -- have further nosedived since President Donald Trump assumed the office in January last year, mainly due to a clash of interests in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Washington accuses Islamabad of providing sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban, especially the powerful Haqqani network, and demands a definitive action against them if it wants to continue as an ally in the so-called war against terrorism.
Pakistan denies the charge saying it has already done “a lot” in war against terrorism, and will continue to do that but only in its own interest.
There has been a significant decrease in drone strikes on Pakistani soil in recent years after Pakistan army launched a full-scale onslaught on the restive tribal belt forcing Taliban to flee toward Afghanistan in June 2104.
According to local media, more than 3,450 people have been killed in 417 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. According to international think tanks and human rights groups, including Amnesty international and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 70 percent of drone victims were unarmed civilians.
Despite Pakistan's public objections to the U.S. drone strikes, it is rumored to have given tacit approval to the ongoing controversial operations. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Dr. Mohammad Faisal, rejected reports Thursday that there was a tacit agreement between Islamabad and Washington over drone strikes.
Pakistan also has its own armed drones, which it has used against suspected militants in the country’s northwestern tribal belt.