MIRAMSHAH/BANNU: At least 40 people were killed and 15 wounded in air strikes in North Waziristan late on Monday night and Tuesday, security officials said.
The strikes appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to the militant bombings in Bannu and Rawalpindi. But security officials said the strikes were carried out on the basis of intelligence reports.
According to witnesses, the air attacks forced scores of families to flee to adjacent settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Security officials in Peshawar said that planes went into action on confirmed intelligence reports about presence of militants in their hideouts. Suspected targets in Mirali and Miramshah subdivisions were attacked late in the night.
The officials said 15 militants had been killed and scores of others injured in the strikes. They claimed that the militants were involved in the suicide bombing in a church and Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar and the Sunday’s bomb blast in the Bannu garrison.
The Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Raheel Sharif, was in Bannu. He inquired after the health of soldiers injured in the Bannu blast, at the Combined Military Hospital.
People in Mirali and parts of Miramshah put the death toll at 30, with more than 15 of them militants. They said that women and children were among the dead.
Media had earlier reported the death of militant commander Adnan Rashid in an air strike in Hamzoni. But witnesses in Miramshah said the militant commander, who had escaped Bannu Jail last April, was seen buying Peshawari chappal in Miramshah bazaar.
Militant fighters in the bazaar appeared unruffled and unnerved, witnesses said. “It was business as usual for them.”
Spokesman for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Shahidullah Shahid also denied reports of deaths of Adnan Rashid and members of his family.
“We completely reject reports of Adnan Rashid or any mujahid’s death in the strikes. With the grace of Allah, Adnan Rashid, along with his kids, is alive and busy with his Jihadist activities,” he said in a statement.
The spokesman put the death toll at more than 50. He reiterated TTP’s willingness to engage in serious and purposeful negotiations with the government. But, he said, the responsibility for creating conducive atmosphere for dialogue lay with the government.
Residents said that planes started bombing at about 11.30pm on Monday. It lasted for more than an hour. Helicopter gunships pounded areas in Mirali on Tuesday.
They said that planes and helicopters bombed Hamzoni, Khati Kali, Khadi, Mosaki, Hesokhel, Hurmaz, Haiderkhel, Khushali Toorikhel and Shera Tala.
Reports said that houses also came under attack.
Eight wounded women and children have been brought to a hospital in Miramshah and several others taken to Mirali.
Sajjad Khan, resident of Mirali, said heavy bombing traumatised children and people could not sleep the whole night. He said that civilians started fleeing their homes late in the night.
Women and children were seen walking to safe areas in Mirali subdivision. A large of number of families moved towards Frontier Region Janikhel and Bannu district.
Displaced people loaded their belongings on tractor-trolleys and pick-ups. Several families were seen moving towards Dera Ismail Khan and Lakki Marwat districts.
AFP adds: Officials said those killed in Tuesday’s air raids included “foreigners” – a term that usually refers to Arab or Central Asian fighters – as well as members of the Punjabi faction of the Taliban.
A security official said the air strikes were not the start of an offensive but instead a “retaliatory action”.