Islamabad: The Taliban have claimed responsibility for shooting down a Pakistani military chopper that crashed in Bajaur tribal area killing at least six people as they announced a "full scale war" against security forces amid a major anti-militancy campaign in the restive northwest.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, deputy chief of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said during a broadcast on his illegal FM radio station late last night that militants had shot down the Mi-17 transport helicopter, which crashed in Nawagai area of the semi-autonomous Bajaur region yesterday.
Six persons, including two Army pilots, had died in the crash, the Daily Times newspaper reported. Initial reports had said four security personnel were killed.
The helicopter, which was returning after dropping fuel and rations at a remote military post, crashed due to "hostile fire”, CNN reported.
It quoted an intelligence source and a local political official as saying that the helicopter was "brought down by hostile fire”.
Faqir Mohammad, who reportedly had a narrow escape during a US drone strike in Bajaur Agency yesterday, however, claimed that 30 security personnel were killed when the helicopter crashed. His claim could not be independently verified.
He also announced a "full scale war" against Pakistani security forces. A journalist in Bajaur said on phone that the Taliban leader had asked people to take up guns against the
Pakistan Army or leave the area.
Reports said Faqir Mohammad left a militant hideout barely 10 minutes before it was struck by the US drone yesterday.
Twenty five militants, including the Taliban leader`s son-in-law and nephew, were killed in the attack. Officials have said the local Taliban `shura` or council was meeting in the hideout when it was hit by two missiles.
Faqir Mohammad admitted some of his "important men" were killed in the drone strike in Damadola area. He said the Taliban were prepared to "render more sacrifices in future."
Faqir Mohammad`s nephew Umar Hayat, who died in the attack, was a prominent Taliban commander in Bajaur.
Pakistani troops have been fighting the Taliban in Bajaur over the past two years and recently launched an offensive in Mamoond area, a stronghold of the militants. Bajaur Agency, located near Afghanistan`s Kunar province, is considered one of the main strongholds of the Taliban in the tribal belt.
Local residents say Taliban and Arab fighters regularly cross the border in Bajaur to launch attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.