Jet fighters bombed suspected militant hideouts in Khyber Agency early morning on Thursday, ‘in response to a spate of attacks around the country’, the army said. At least 35 suspected militants were killed and 14 others were wounded in what was the first aerial operation against insurgent hideouts in two months.
“Terrorist hideouts were engaged by fighter jets in Khyber Agency early morning today,” the army’s press wing said in a text message sent to the media. It said it was a response to a number of recent attacks against police and civilians in Islamabad and Peshawar.
“After the jets, Pakistan army ground forces also launched operations in the area,” Reuters quoted a senior military official in Peshawar as saying. According to the official, the operation was still underway.
The airstrikes were carried out in Bara tehsil and Jamrud in Khyber Agency, where both Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) are active. According to security officials from the area, the strikes were prompted by reports that militants involved in the Islamabad Sabzi Mandi blast and Peshawar police attack were present in the area.
“Around 35 militants were killed in the airstrikes while 14 others were wounded,” a security official from Khyber Agency told The Express Tribune. Over 10 suspected militant hideouts were destroyed during the bombing as well, he added.
Following the airstrikes, security forces cordoned off different areas in Bara to arrest militants attempting to flee the region. A search operation was also carried out and resulted in the arrest of 15 suspects from the Mirikhel and Sultankhel areas of Bara. Local sources, however, said the Mirikhel area mostly housed displaced families from Orakzai Agency. They claimed two children and a woman were among those killed in the airstrikes.
LI spokesman Umer Afridi also claimed those killed in the bombing were innocents, mostly shepherds belonging to Orakzai Agency. The Taliban condemned the strikes and said they were ‘deeply anguished’, but did not say the incident would derail talks.
“This is the first attack since the extension in ceasefire has expired. If government is empowered and serious in negotiations we will continue them,” AFP quoted TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid as saying.
Thursday’s operation was the first time the military is known to have used air strikes against militant hideouts since the TTP announced a ceasefire on March 1 to help peace talks. The group said last week it was ending the ceasefire, complaining of little progress in negotiations with the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2014.