At least 71 suspected militants and four security officials dead; civilian casualties feared.
Pakistan Air Force jets pounded Taliban targets in different parts of North Waziristan on Wednesday before clashes broke out between the military and insurgents, leaving dozens dead.
At least 60 people, including suspected insurgent commanders, were killed in the early morning air strikes, officials said, while separately a minimum of 11 militants and four security officials died in fighting near the town of Mir Ali.
The violence will come as a fresh blow to peace talks between Islamabad and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which have made little progress since they began in February.
There have been a number of insurgent attacks on security forces in recent weeks and the air raids fit a familiar pattern of the armed forces responding by hitting the insurgents’ bases in the tribal areas.
Targets in North Waziristan, a stronghold of Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants, were hit in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The military said those targeted in Wednesday’s operation were linked to recent bomb and suicide attacks around the country. It also said that a “huge cache” of munitions was destroyed in the strikes. “As per reports so far, 60 hardcore terrorists including some of the important commanders and foreigners were also killed in the strikes and around 30 were injured,” a statement from the ISPR, the military’s media wing, said, without elaborating on who the commanders were.
In the later incident, the military said in a statement: “Eleven terrorists were killed and four security forces’ personnel, including an officer, embraced martyrdom.”
The number and identities of the dead could not be verified independently because fighting is ongoing and journalists cannot enter the area.
Both local and Intelligence officials confirmed the air strikes conducted in North Waziristan. “Militants hideouts were bombed in scattered places of Mir Ali and Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, after credible reports of militant presence in those areas,” said an intelligence official on condition of anonymity. Local intelligence officials and residents said civilians were among the wounded.
Ali Wazir, 35 is a resident of Mir Ali’s Mir Musaki area. “We heard the bombs at midnight, but couldn’t tell who was being targeted,” he told Newsweek. “Local residents rushed out of their homes, fearing they might get killed,” he added.
Nasirullah, a resident of Mir Ali, criticized the government for staging the airstrikes. “The jets start bombardment around 2:00 a.m.,” he told Newsweek. “The government is very cruel. This is the second or third time that these jets have targeted our homes and killed innocents,” he said, adding that his brother had been injured in the strikes.
Rabbani, another Mir Ali resident, rushed his injured son, wife and a cousin to hospital in Bannu after they were injured in the airstrikes. “The bombardment started all in a sudden. It killed three women from my family and four kids of my neighbor,” he told Newsweek. “We don’t need any loan or development projects from the government; only peace.” There were a lot of civilian casualties, he said, adding it was “awful to be attacked by your own military.” Following the strikes, the political administration of the area imposed a curfew for an indefinite period.
Analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said the strikes were in line with the military’s policy of retaliating to attacks by the militants. “There is also realization among the government that the dialogue is more or less dead,” he said.