Pakistani helicopter gunships kill 22 militants near Afghan border, official says

PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — Army helicopter gunships pounded insurgent hideouts in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least 22 militants, a government official said.

Samiullah Khan said the hideouts hit were in the Dabori area and its neighboring villages of the Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border. He added the aerial strikes also destroyed six militant compounds.

Khan said the militants fired mortars at an army checkpoint in Mishti Mela area in Lower Orakzai, wounding two soldiers.

Pakistani forces launched an operation in Orakzai in mid-March to flush out militants who last year fled an army offensive in South Waziristan. The troops are believed to have retaken several areas from the Taliban in the region.

Thousands of people have fled the area. Most of them have moved in with relatives in nearby districts.

Independent confirmation of the casualties and the identities of those killed is virtually impossible because the region is remote and dangerous and media access there is restricted.

The tribal region is the primary base of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

Mehsud was believed killed in a mid-January suspected U.S. missile strike, but intelligence officials now say he is thought to have survived.

The Taliban had always denied the strike killed Mehsud, though failed to offer any evidence such as video footage of him.