PESHAWAR - Fiver terrorists were killed Sunday morning when military gunships helicopters targeted hideout of a militant commander who reportedly ordered Saturday’s attack on polio escorts in Khyber Agency.
Mullah Tamanchey, hiding in mountainous area of Bara tehsil, was behind the deadly assault against a convoy carrying a polio vaccination team in Jamrud tehsil on Saturday in which 13 paramilitary soldiers and a child were killed, the military said.
Hours after the attack on the convoy, the Taliban had said they would observe a one-month ceasefire to try to revive peace talks that failed last month. It also called on other militant groups to observe the ceasefire.
Mullah Tamanchey is the leader of a small militant faction affiliated with the Taliban and opposed polio vaccination. Sources said that gunship helicopters struck his headquarters and flattened his Ayubi Markaz in Bara whereas five suspected militants were also killed.
"The government is not going to tolerate any act of terror and any act will be replied to," said a Pakistani security official who asked not to be identified. A government negotiator said they were open to restarting peace talks as long as the Taliban and its affiliates honoured the ceasefire.
Some analysts have speculated that the Pakistani Taliban's offer of a ceasefire is aimed at stalling an operation in North Waziristan. Some militants say the health campaign is a cover for spying or a plot to sterilise Muslims.
Tahir Ashrafi, head of the country's largest alliance of clerics, said that the Taliban should release kidnap victims, safeguard polio workers and produce the bodies of slain paramilitary forces to demonstrate their sincerity. The government should release suspected militants from prison if there was no evidence against them, he said.
In Pakistan more than 50,000 civilians and over 5,000 security personnel have been killed in a decade-long war against terror. The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of militant groups, says it is fighting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and replace it with a state ruled under strict Islamic law.
Sharif has been pursuing peace talks since he was elected in May. Soon after the talks finally began on Feb 6 the Taliban bombed a police bus in Karachi, killing 13 people. The talks foundered days later when a Taliban faction claimed to have killed 23 paramilitary forces. The same night the military began bombing areas in the northwest that it said were militant hideouts.
In recent weeks speculation has been mounting that the military would launch a ground operation in North Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan. North Waziristan has long been regarded as stronghold for Afghan Taliban factions, the affiliated Haqqani group, and al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistani Taliban.