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PAF Continues Airstrikes on Militant Hideouts

by AFP
Courtesy U.S. Air Force.

Courtesy U.S. Air Force.

At least 38 alleged militants killed in shelling on Feb. 23, according to officials.

Pakistani fighter jets on Sunday launched airstrikes on militant hideouts in the northwest, killing at least 38 people, according to officials, in the latest retaliation for attacks by the militants that have derailed peace talks.

The strikes made on militant hideouts in the Tirah Valley of the Khyber Agency were the third in the series of raids by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) since Feb. 20.

They follow the execution of 23 Pakistan soldiers by the Taliban last week, which cast doubts over dialogue initiated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Jan. 29.

“There are confirmed reports that 38 terrorists, including some important commanders, were killed,” a statement by the military said, adding, “six hideouts were completely destroyed.” Earlier, a senior security official in Islamabad said improvised explosive devices (IED) making factories and explosive material were destroyed.

Local administration officials refused to comment, saying it was a matter for the military, and the tolls could not be independently verified, as it is difficult for journalists to enter the area.

On Saturday, at least nine militants were killed when Pakistani gunship helicopters pounded Taliban hideouts in Thal village in Hangu district, near the tribal areas where militants linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda have strongholds.

Two days earlier, security officials said they killed over 30 militants including 16 Uzbeks in the airstrikes conducted in the northwest, infiltrated by the local and foreign militants.

The airstrikes and spiraling violence have cast serious doubt on a troubled peace process between the government and the insurgents that began just three weeks ago. After several rounds of talks, government mediators pulled out of scheduled dialogue with their Taliban counterparts on Monday amid outrage over the claimed execution of 23 kidnapped soldiers.

A faction of the Islamist movement from Mohmand near the Afghan border said on Feb. 16 they had killed the soldiers who were seized in the area in June 2010. Government mediators have set a ceasefire as a precondition for another round of talks but Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban, on Friday blamed Islamabad for the deadlock and asked the state to declare a ceasefire first.

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