PESHAWAR: The military attacked Taliban hideouts in the lawless tribal northwest with fighter jets and ground forces on Thursday and killed at least 37 suspected militants, officials said.
It was the first time the military is known to have used air strikes against militants since the Pakistani Taliban announced a ceasefire on March 1 to help peace talks. The airstrikes 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 in Peshawar told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Military sources said at least 37 militants were killed and 18 wounded in the operation. Independent verification of the death toll and identity of the dead was not possible, as journalists are not allowed to enter the area. The Taliban condemned the strikes and said they were “deeply anguished” but did not say the incident would derail talks. “This is the first attack since the extension in ceasefire has expired. If government is empowered and serious in negotiations we will continue them,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP. Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is feared for kidnappings and extortion in Khyber, one of seven tribal districts along the Afghan border. 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. Government and Taliban negotiators met in Islamabad on Tuesday to plan a fresh round of talks and to try to persuade the militants to begin another ceasefire, a Taliban negotiator said. Since the Taliban began their campaign of violence in 2007, more than 6,800 people have been killed in bomb and gun attacks around Pakistan, according to an AFP tally.
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