ISLAMABAD - In the seventh surgical mission in a week, the second in a settled area, the security forces on Thursday were reported to have killed at least 11 militants from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in their ongoing drive against terrorism in the terror-infected north-western belt of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

In a coinciding development the same day, Pakistan’s air chief reiterated “Combat readiness in pursuit of the assigned mission.” Three Cobra gunship choppers of Pakistan Army carried out two sorties in the Kolachi town of Dera Ismail Khan on Thursday early morning, the security officials said. Resultantly, the officials added, seven militants were killed in Zarkalooni village where terrorists’ two hideouts were destroyed. Separately, F-16 fighter jets of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) carried out a surgical strike in a mountainous area located in the outskirts of DI Khan and South Waziristan Agency (SWA), which destroyed a militants’ hideout in addition to fatally targeting four terrorists.

SWA Political Agent Islam Zeb, when approached, confirmed the information regarding the militants’ casualties in the airstrikes in SWA and DI Khan. He, however, said any exact number of the casualties was not known. “At this point, I can only say that terrorists were killed in the security forces’ aerial operations, but I don’t know how many. The relevant details are yet to be received,” he told this correspondent Thursday noon.

The security sources, on the other hand, confirmed that at least 11 militants were dead whereas the insiders stated the death toll could rise as some militants received serious injuries.

Last Saturday, the security forces stretched the aerial assaults’ outreach from the tribal agencies to the settled areas following surgical strikes on TTP men in Hangu district. At least nine terrorists, including a commander, were reportedly killed when the militants’ hideaways in the Darsumand and Torwari villages of Hangu were destroyed.

In a recent background interaction, a PAF insider informed this correspondent that the Cobra gunship choppers were mainly used in the security forces’ joint aerial missions to ensure maximum precision. “The choppers can conduct low flights while ensuring maximum accuracy that prevents collateral damage or civilian casualties. The fighter jets have greater surgical impact (power to destroy the target). In the areas where the use of choppers could invite the risk of a ground attack due to low flights, the fighter jets are used,” he said.

In order to maintain operational secrecy and achieve the maximum results, the aerial operations are being launched in parts, with unscheduled intervals, in scattered areas, the official further said. “This policy has greatly worked and the targets are being secured,” the source stated. Pakistan’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as falco surveillance drones, are being used for reconnaissance before the targets are pounded, the PAF officer averred.

Launched on February 20, the ongoing aerial action against the TTP militants in Fata has reportedly resulted in the elimination of over 140 militants so far. The militants’ hideouts have been targeted in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Khyber and Kurram agencies in addition to the settled areas, including Hangu and DI Khan.

Meanwhile, a statement from the PAF quoted Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt as saying, “The PAF is committed to maintaining combat readiness in pursuit of the assigned mission while ensuring judicious use of resources and preservation of assets.” He shared these views while addressing the PAF Annual Safety Review for the year 2013 at Air Headquarters, Islamabad.