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Pakistani military denies civilians killed in weekend strikes

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistani military disputes reports that 80 civilians were killed in weekend airstrikes
  • Official says intelligence confirmed militants were at spot in Tirah Valley before the strikes
  • Officials say villagers had gathered to settle disputes in front of village elders
  • They were at the meeting when the helicopter gunships opened fire, the sources said
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(CNN) -- The Pakistani military Tuesday disputed reports that 80 civilians were killed in weekend airstrikes, calling the reports "absolutely wrong."

A military official told CNN there was intelligence on the ground and visual confirmation that militants were at the spot in the Tirah Valley, in northwest Pakistan, before the strikes took place.

"There was no doubt that there were militants there," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he is not the official spokesman for the Pakistani military.

A Pakistani intelligence official and a local government official told CNN on Tuesday that the strikes left 80 civilians dead in the Tirah Valley, which is in the Khyber Agency along the Afghan border.

The villagers had gathered Saturday in order to settle disputes in front of village elders, said the two officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. They were at the meeting, known as a jirga, when the helicopter gunships opened fire, the sources said.

A top government official in Khyber Agency, Shafir Ullah Wazir, told CNN that Monday, about 70 villagers from Tirah Valley met with him and protested the killings on the record. Wazir said he gave the group $117,000 as compensation for the victims' families.

The Pakistani military official told CNN "there's a small possibility that there was collateral damage" but denied reports of 80 civilians killed.

"There were bunkers made by the militants and armed militants in the area," he said.

Thirty militants were killed in the strikes, and if any civilians were killed, "it was unintentional," he said.