At least 30 suspected insurgents were killed and several others injured as military jets and gunships bombed their hideouts in the North Waziristan and Khyber agencies, military sources said on Thursday.
Air strikes were carried out in the Mirali, Shawal and Datta Khel areas of North Waziristan Agency late Wednesday night, security officials said. At least 23 suspected militants were killed as a result of what the officials termed ‘precision attacks’. Among those killed in the strikes were at least 16 Uzbek nationals, they said.
According to North Waziristan tribesmen, the strikes took place around 12:30am on Wednesday.
“Five people were killed and three others were injured in Shawal,” said one tribesman, adding that casualties in Mirali and Datta Khel could not be ascertained. He added that following the air strikes, tribesmen had started to evacuate the agency and move towards Peshawar, Bannu, Karak and Lakki Marwat.
Another seven suspected militants were killed in precision strikes in the Khyber Agency, military sources said. These include at least three suspected suicide bombers and an important commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, they told The Express Tribune. An improvised explosive device factory was also destroyed in the bombing, they added.
While some media reports suggested as many as 40 insurgent fatalities in the air strikes, military officials confirmed only 30 casualties. They said those killed in the latest attacks were involved in the recent attack at a cinema in Peshawar and the killing of an army officer in the city.
The latest offensive came in the wake of the Taliban’s claim of killing 23 Frontier Corps soldiers.
Talking to The Express Tribune, a government official said the air strikes carried out on Wednesday night were authorised by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
A security official disclosed that army chief General Raheel Sharif, in one of his recent meetings with the prime minister, had suggested the government push for decisive action against militants.
Following the recent surge in militant attacks across the country, the security establishment told the government that TTP and its affiliates were not ‘sincere’ about pursuing peace talks and that the time had come to consider other options.
The army has so far publicly maintained silence over the government’s peace overtures to the TTP. But with increasing attacks on security forces, the army’s patience appears to be running out.
A senior security official, who requested anonymity, told The Express Tribune that the state had to respond to the recent actions of militants.
Wednesday night’s strikes came just hours after the army said over 100 soldiers had been killed by the TTP in the last five months, a rare admission of relatively heavy casualties.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Thursday said that necessary steps would be taken to ensure the safety of the citizens of Pakistan. He stated that 175 people had been killed in 40 attacks by militants in the last 17 days and this was the reason why the operation was ordered.
“Armed forces and security agencies will respond to acts of terrorism,” the minister added.
In an unusually tough statement late Wednesday night, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that the army was capable of crushing all enemies.
“The prime minister wants to resolve these issues without bloodshed, but if the Taliban continue killing people then we will be left with no choice but to keep our citizens safe from terrorism through any means possible,” he had said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.