At least 50 suspected militants, primarily foreign fighters, killed in latest airstrikes according to military statement.
Pakistani fighter jets targeted suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan on Sunday morning, killing over 50 and destroying an ammunitions cache, according to a military statement, as the Pakistani Taliban reiterated their warnings of retaliatory attacks.
“Over 50 terrorists, mostly Uzbek, were targeted by jet aircrafts,” said a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), adding, “an ammunitions dump has also been destroyed.”
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), in partnership with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), attacked the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on June 8, killing 28 people. The IMU claimed the attack had been undertaken in response to military airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Sunday’s shelling targeted suspected terrorist hideouts in the mountainous Dehgan area of North Waziristan. “There were confirmed reports of presence of foreign and local terrorists in these hideouts who were linked in planning of Karachi airport attack,” according to the ISPR statement.
Intelligence officials based in North Waziristan confirmed the attack, but put the death toll far higher. “The jet pounded the hideouts of terrorists, killing as many as 100 militants,” an official told Newsweek on condition of anonymity. Another security official told AFP that “the number of the killed people was even more than 150.” The numbers could not be verified independently as journalists are not permitted in the tribal areas. “The hideouts belonged to Uzbek militants,” the official added.
This was the second wave of aerial bombing by Pakistani jets in the tribal areas following the attack on the Karachi airport. On June 9, at least nine militant hideouts were destroyed in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, killing at least 25 militants. Similarly, on June 11, at least 16 suspected militants were killed in two U.S. drone strikes targeting a location in North Waziristan.
The Government of Pakistan had suspected military strikes on militants based in North Waziristan after commencing peace talks and the announcement of a month-long ceasefire that ended on April 16. On May 30, key Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur had warned residents of the tribal agency to flee the area by June, warning them of all-out war. The deadline was extended for 15 days after tribal elders met the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor in Peshawar, but hundreds of locals have fled the area for safer climes since then.
Responding to Sunday’s strikes, the Pakistani Taliban claimed the military had killed dozens of innocents. “The barbaric Pakistan Army has once again targeted the innocent people of North Waziristan and has killed and injured hundreds of innocent tribal people in the dark of night,” said TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. “We are keeping a record of each and every chapter of these atrocities,” he said, warning of “effective retaliatory actions” in response.
“The TTP started peace talks with the government with all sincerity in the best interest of Islam and the country. During the talks we announced a one-sided ceasefire as well as other measures,” he said. “Whereas the government used the holy process of talks as a war weapon in line with the policies of [former presidents] Musharraf and Zardari. The serious and justified demands from the TTP were thrown in the waste,” he said. “[The government] did no release even a single non-militant prisoner and has refused to produce them before court,” he added.
“The continuing non-serious attitude of the government, and its insistence on creating differences among the mujahideen instead of conducting dialogue has forced the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to announce an end to the ceasefire and [we] will launch retaliatory attacks, which is our right under shariah and our duty,” he said.
The TTP spokesman alleged that over 50,000 tribesmen had fled to Afghanistan due to the ongoing airstrikes. “For God’s sake, open your eyes and see in reality that the time has come for Baloch, Sindhis, Pakhtoons and Islam-loving Punjabis to separate themselves from the war of this group.”