KHYBER AGENCY/PESHAWAR - Fighter jets on Sunday launched air strikes on militant hideouts in the Tirah valley of the Khyber tribal district, in the latest retaliation for attacks by the militants that have derailed peace talks.
Security forces claimed of killing at least 38 terrorists and wounding dozens of others in the Sunday air raids, which are part of the joint operation of Pakistan Army and Air Force that started on February 20 following the execution of 23 Pakistan soldiers by the Taliban last week.
“There are confirmed reports that 38 terrorists including some important commanders were killed,” a statement by the military said, adding that “six hideouts were completely destroyed”.
Earlier, a senior security official in Islamabad said IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) making factories and explosive material were destroyed in early morning strikes. Local administration officials refused to comment, saying it was a matter for the military, and the tolls could not be independently verified as it is difficult for journalists to enter the area.
The forces and local sources while confirming the attack said the jets pounded hideouts of militants in Dwa Toai, Sra Waila and Tor Dara areas of tehsil Jamrud. Dozens of them were wounded in the bombardment, local sources said. The attacked terror dens reportedly belonged to Mohamand and Orakzai fictions of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
On the other hand, in an apparent precursor to a ground operation, the political administration imposed curfew on Friday for indefinite period of time in most parts the terror-infested North Waziristan Agency, which is also a special focus of airstrikes operation. Curfew was slapped on the areas including Tehsil Mir Ali, Miranshah, Datta Khel, Razmiak and Dosali and security forces were given shoot-on-sight orders against violators.
The local administration announced the curfew and shoot-on-sight orders through loudspeakers. According to reports, the security forces personal are patrolling the streets while security has been tightened on all entry and exit points.
Around 700,000 residents of North Waziristan are feared to migrate to safer places if the government decides to launch a ground operation. However, they have been forced to wait till relaxation or lifting of curfew.
On Saturday, at least nine militants were killed when Pakistani gunship helicopters pounded Taliban hideouts in Thall village in Hangu district, near the tribal areas where militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda have strongholds. Two days earlier, security officials said they killed over 30 militants including 16 Uzbeks in the air strikes conducted in the northwest, infiltrated by the local and foreign militants.
The air strikes and spiralling violence have cast serious doubt on a troubled peace process between the government and the insurgents that began just three weeks ago. After several rounds of talks, government mediators pulled out of scheduled dialogue with their Taliban counterparts on Monday amid outrage over the claimed execution of 23 kidnapped soldiers. A faction of the TTP from Mohmand near the Afghan border said on February 16 they had killed the soldiers who were seized in the area in June 2010.
Government mediators have set a ceasefire as a precondition for another round of talks but Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban, on Friday blamed Islamabad for the deadlock and asked the state to declare a ceasefire first. The TTP, an umbrella grouping of numerous militant factions, has been waging a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007, carrying out a number of bomb and gun attacks, often on military targets.