MIRAMSHAH: At least 73 suspected local and foreign militants were killed in a series of pre-dawn air strikes on hideouts and bases in North Waziristan and in a later clash following an attack on security personnel.

An army major and three other security personnel died in the clash.

The targets of the air strikes were strongholds of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (Etim) — a militant outfit comprising largely Turkic-speaking militants from Uzbekistan and Uighurs from China’s north-western autonomous region of Xinjiang, a security official said.

China has blamed Etim, which also uses the name of Turkistan Islamic Party, for most of recent violent attacks and raised the issue with Pakistan from time to time.

The Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement that the air attacks were in retaliation for the killing of “a large number of civilians and security forces personnel” by terrorists in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi.

It said that intelligence reports and other investigations confirmed the linkage of these terrorist acts with terrorists targeted in North Waziristan.

“On confirmed intelligence reports, air strikes were carried out on terrorists’ hideouts in North Waziristan,” the ISPR said. So far, it said, 60 hardcore militants, including some important commanders and foreign militants, had been killed.

The military planes began the bombing run at around 2.30 am, hitting suspected militant targets in areas near regional headquarters of Miramshah and the militant-infested Mirali sub-district.

“Pakistani militants and foreign militants from Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement were the targets,” said a security official on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

“We have 32 confirmed deaths of militants,” he said. Helicopter gunships also took part in the blitzkrieg, he added.

There were unconfirmed reports about the death of two Pakistani militant leaders.

The tribal region that borders Afghanistan is infested with local and foreign militants and Pakistani state control is limited.

A resident of Miramshah reached by phone put the death toll at around 70 and said the dead included some women and children. He based his claim on contacts with locals in Dattakhel near Miramshah and Degan, the areas hit by the air strikes.

Phones, however, went dead in most part of the tribal region immediately afterwards and there was no independent confirmation of the number of casualties. The entire region has been under curfew since Tuesday evening but some locals said that villagers in areas hit by the air strikes were moving to safe locations using unfrequented routes.

The security official said the air strikes were in retaliation for the killing of nine people in Peshawar at a registration camp set up for internally displaced persons from Tirah, Khyber Agency and roadside bombings in Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions.

“These are targeted strikes. The objective is to hit those orchestrating the attacks,” the official said.

The planes bombed areas in Dattakhel, Ghulam Khan, Spinwam, Boya, Degan, Machis Camp, Land Muhammadkhel near Miramshah, while Mirali bazaar, Mossaki, Hasokhel, Hurmoz and Esori in Mirali were also targeted.

Reports said that parts of Mirali bazaar were on fire due to a mortar attack from Mirali security camp.

TTP leaders Musa Khan Mehsud and Sabir Mehsud were among those killed.

The number of the wounded has been put at 50, but they could not be taken to hospitals because of the curfew.

The political administration in Miramshah has ordered residents in Machis Camp to leave their houses within three hours via Miramshah village, Darpakhel and Boya. Ghulam Khan and Chashma roads have been closed. A ban has been imposed on display of weapons.

Latest reports said that thousands of families were leaving Machis Camp which has now been completely abandoned. One report said that Pakistani-origin drones were flying at low altitude over Miramshah and Mirali.

This was possibly the first time that Pakistani drones were being used in the tribal region. Curfew remained enforced till late evening.

Fire and smoke could be seen billowing from houses in Machis camp area.

In the evening, militants mounted an attack on security forces in Mirali Bazaar. An army major and three other security personnel were killed and seven were injured.

Security forces claimed having killed 13 militants. Residents said security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery started a search operation in the area which continued till late night.

Security forces also targeted militant positions with artillery from Miramshah and Mirali camps, they said, adding that Machas Kalli, Isori, Musakai, Mirali Bazaar, Harmaz, Isokhel and other villages came under shelling. They feared more casualties.

A press release issued by the ISPR confirmed the clash. It said an encounter between security forces and terrorists took place around Mirali on Wednesday afternoon.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2014

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