US drone strike kills 13 Pakistani militants in Afghanistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - A US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan has killed 13 militants linked to the Pakistani Taleban in an area close to the countries' rugged border, officials said Tuesday.

The strike came in the Nasyan area of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, close to the border with the Pakistani tribal district of Khyber.

Pakistani security officials said the militants belonged to the Lashkar-e-Islam, Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) and Abdullah Azam Brigade and Haqqani network militant groups.

"The strike took place when an important meeting of militants was in progress and a car bomb was being prepared for some suicide attack," a Pakistani security official told AFP.

"There are two Haqqani network commanders and six TTP militants among the dead," the official said, adding the rest belonged to the two other groups.

The feared Haqqani network is frequently accused of sending fighters and suicide bombers against US and Nato troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.

TTP is Pakistan Taleban's umbrella militant group, while Lashkar-e-Islam militant group is based in lawless Khyber tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

A Nato spokesman in Kabul confirmed the strike and said it was carried out on Monday, but gave no details on the number of casualities.

"We can confirm there was a US precision strike during an operation in Nasyan district, Nangarhar province, 23 March," the spokesman said.

The strike is the latest evidence of increasing cooperation between the two neighbours and US-led forces in combating TTP militants who have fled across the border from a Pakistani military operation.

After years of fractious ties and mistrust, Kabul and Islamabad are improving relations under new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and both countries have agreed to take action against militants using their territory to launch attacks.

Pakistan's army chief visited Kabul after a deadly Taleban attack on a school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar in December that killed 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Last Thursday, the Pakistani Taleban said a US drone strike in eastern Afghanistan killed a senior commander who was a close associate of two of the group's former chiefs.

The strike comes at a time when President Barack Obama is to meet with Ghani, who has asked Washington for "flexibility" on the pace of US troop withdrawals from the war-torn country.

With the end of the US-led Nato combat mission in 2014, Afghan forces have taken over responsibility for security across the nation, still wrestling with a resilient Taleban insurgency.

In a stark reminder of the violence still racking Afghanistan, gunmen killed 13 bus passengers in a province close to Kabul early on Tuesday.

Separately, a Pakistan security official and his son were killed and three of his family members were wounded Tuesday when a roadside bomb detonated as their vehicle passed by in the South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan, officials said.