BANNU: At least 65 militants were killed and their ammunition dump destroyed Monday in air strikes on hideouts in the country's tribal belt near the Afghan border, the military said.
The strikes targeted hideouts in the Gharlamai and Shawal areas of the lawless North Waziristan tribal region, where the army has been waging an offensive against Taliban militants since June last year.
“At least 50 terrorists were killed in precise air strikes in Shawal and Gharlamai this afternoon. There are reports that the terrorists' infrastructure in the area, including their ammunition dump, is badly damaged,” the military said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, two intelligence officials, who declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak on the record, told Reuters that air strikes on Monday morning killed at least 24 suspected militants in the Zoi Nari, Lataka, Mizer Madakhel and Shawal areas of North Waziristan.
“Jet air shelling destroyed six militant hideouts and killed 24 militants hiding in this area,” said one of the officials, adding that the dead included some foreigners.
A second official confirmed the deaths but declined to comment when asked if the strikes were in retaliation for Sunday's attack in Punjab, which killed nine people, including the provincial security chief.
According to Radio Pakistan, air raids were also conducted in Rajgal area of Khyber Agency, where 15 terrorists were targeted including two suicide bombers.
These areas are generally off-limits to journalists, making it difficult to independently verify the number and identity of the dead.
The deeply forested ravines of Shawal Valley and Datta Khel are a smuggling route between Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and are dotted with militant bases used as launch pads for attacks on country's security forces.
The Pakistani wing of the hard-line Taliban used to control all of mountainous North Waziristan, which includes the Shawal Valley and Datta Khel, and runs along the Afghan border. But the Pakistani military recaptured most of the region in a major armed operation launched last June.
Security forces had on Sunday carried out aerial strikes in Shawal Valley that killed 40 terrorists.
Nato forces had long urged Pakistan for such an offensive, saying Taliban safe havens in the country were being used to attack Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Since May, the military has stepped up operations in Shawal Valley, where the Taliban still operates freely.
The area is a stronghold of Khan “Sajna” Said, the leader of a Taliban faction whose name the United States last year put on a sanctions list of “specially designated global terrorists”.
Most phone lines to the area have been cut and military roadblocks limit civilian movement. It is not possible to independently verify security forces' claims of attacks and deaths.
The Pakistani Taliban mainly fight against the government in Islamabad and are separate from, but allied with, the Afghan Taliban that ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s before being expelled in a U.S.-led military intervention.
Both groups send fighters against Afghanistan's Western-backed government. Afghan officials have said the army offensive has driven large numbers of fighters over the border, complicating the war in Afghanistan's east and north.