Pakistan’s army has begun pounding Taliban positions in a northwest region close to a lawless tribal belt, killing dozens in an escalation of a military offensive, officials said Wednesday.
Troops are already locked in a more than six-week battle against Islamist extremists in three northwestern districts, and officials said operations were now also underway in Bannu district bordering semi-autonomous Waziristan.
“We launched an operation in Jani Khel area against the militants. We are using artillery and helicopter gunships to target the miscreant positions,” a military official based in the area told AFP.
“I have no specific number of casualties, but we have reports of dozens of militants killed in the offensive,” said the military official, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Police said the operation was launched after talks broke down between tribal elders and the government, who demanded the elders hand over Taliban militants responsible for kidnapping more than 100 students at the start of June.
“Forces pounded the militant hideouts for the whole night and in the morning at Jani Khel tribal area,” local police official Khalil Zaman told AFP.
“Authorities have imposed curfew in some areas,” he added.
Another security official said up to 20 suspected militants could have been killed in the area, while the home of a militant commander was destroyed.
Also in Bannu on Wednesday, one person was killed and two wounded when insurgents fired a rocket at a house, Zaman told AFP.
Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal regions are wracked by violence and are a known bolthole for hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels who fled across the border to escape the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas had on Tuesday denied any fresh military offensive in Bannu and said no operation was looming in Waziristan, but was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
The current US-backed campaign centred on Swat was launched when Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.