MIRANSHAH: Pakistani troops, artillery and helicopter gunships hit targets in the country’s tribal areas yesterday, officials said, in a second day of military action against Taliban insurgents. The attacks in North Waziristan, a militant stronghold on the Afghan border, destroyed hundreds of shops and houses, officials said.
They came a day after air strikes and ground fighting killed at least 71 suspected militants and four security personnel in the same area.
Local residents and officials said thousands had started fleeing towards the garrison town of Bannu in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to the unrest.
Intelligence officials said that the bodies of two people killed in yesterday’s action had so far been recovered, but the full death toll may only come to light after the fighting has ended.
The violence comes as another blow to peace talks between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which have made little progress since they began in February. Troops backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and reconnaissance drones swung into action yesterday, destroying shops and houses, local residents and officials said.
The official said a curfew had been imposed in the whole of North Waziristan.
“Artillery and helicopter gunships are targeting militant hideouts,” a local intelligence official in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan said.
He added that troops on the ground had begun a door to door search operation for militants.
“Troops also used explosives to blow up more than 100 houses belonging to militants in Machis Camp,” the official said, referring to the neighbourhood on the outskirts of Miranshah which was once a camp for Afghan refugees but is now thought to be used by militants. An official statement from the army said a military camp in Miranshah had come under attack from insurgents, who were successfully repelled.
In the nearby town of Mir Ali, the military also targeted militant hideouts and helicopters fired shells on suspected hide outs.
“The troops have destroyed about 300 shops in the main Mir Ali bazaar,” a local official said. The military statement said two homemade bombs in the area were “neutralised”.
Local residents also said that the main power cable to the area was damaged in shelling and there was no electricity supply in the area since the previous night.
On Wednesday air force jets began the onslaught, bombarding targets in North Waziristan before ground battles between troops and insurgents. Washington has long pressured Islamabad to carry out an operation to stamp out militant hideouts. But it was not clear that the latest military action was the beginning of such an operation. AFP