PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Thirteen members of the Pakistani Frontier Corps, including a colonel, were killed in an apparent friendly fire incident in a northwestern region infested with al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants, a top military commander said on Tuesday.
The deaths occurred late on Monday during an anti-militant operation by the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Khyber, an ethnic Pashtun tribal region near the Afghan border.
Lieutenant-General Asif Yasin Malik, the seniormost officer in the northwest, said a mortar fired by the soldiers erroneously fell on their position, causing the deaths.
"The soldiers were coming under machine gun fire and they were retaliating with mortar fire. But a mortar bomb missed the target and mistakenly hit their own position," he told reporters after the funerals of the slain soldiers in the city of Peshawar.
He said one colonel and another officer was among the dead.
Some residents, however, said a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb planted by the militants, causing the deaths.
Khyber is one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions bordering Afghanistan and is considered a global hub for militants. It also marks one of the main supply routes for the U.S.-led foreign forces operating in Afghanistan. Militants frequently attack NATO supply trucks in the region.
In recent weeks, the security forces have stepped up attacks on the militants after they blew up several schools and bridges in an attempt to hinder the flow of supplies for the NATO forces.
(Reporting by Ibrahim Shinwari; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Sanjeev Miglani)