PESHAWAR: The Pakistani military attacked Taliban hideouts in the lawless tribal northwest with fighter jets and ground forces yesterday and killed at least 37 suspected militants, officials said.
It is 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 government began negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in February to try to end their seven-year insurgency, which has cost thousands of lives.
The Taliban said last week it was ending the ceasefire, complaining of little progress in negotiations with the government. A series of militant attacks since then have killed seven people in the northwest.
The air strikes hit mountainous areas of the Khyber tribal district, 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 said.
Military sources said at least 37 militants were killed and 18 wounded in the operation.
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 said.
Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is feared for kidnapping and extortion in Khyber, one of seven tribal districts along the Afghan border.
A security official said the strikes targeted militants involved in bomb attacks in the northwestern town of Charsadda and on a fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad that killed 24 people.