37 dead as Taliban attacked in Khyber

Army use heavy weapons to pound militant targets

PESHAWAR – The Pakistan Army attacked Taliban hideouts in different parts of Khyber Agency with fighter jets and ground forces on Thursday and killed at least 37 suspected militants, security officials said.

The air strikes hit mountainous areas of the Khyber Agency, where the Taliban and the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Islam are active. “First jet fighters were used early in the morning and then ground troops were sent to the area,” a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

It was the first time the military is known to have used air strikes against militants since the Taliban announced a ceasefire on March 1 to help peace talks. “They are conducting a search and cordon operation and up to now at least 16 militants have been killed,” the official said.

Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is feared for kidnappings and extortion in Khyber, one of seven tribal areas. Another security official said the strikes targeted militants involved in bomb attacks in Charsadda and on a fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad which killed 24 people.

Officials said ground troops also used heavy weapons to pound militant targets. Independent verification of the death toll was not possible, as journalists are not allowed to enter the area. In February, Pakistan began talks with the Taliban to try to end their seven-year insurgency, which has cost thousands of lives.

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