40 killed as Pakistan jets bomb 'militant hideouts'

Thursday 20 February 2014 10.24
Pakistan Taliban members Professor Ibrahim (R) and Mualana Yousaf Shah (L), part of the committee nominated to take part in peace talks with the Pakistan government
Pakistan Taliban members Professor Ibrahim (R) and Mualana Yousaf Shah (L), part of the committee nominated to take part in peace talks with the Pakistan government

Pakistani fighter jets have bombed suspected militant hideouts in an ethnic Pashtun area on the Afghan border, killing at least 40 people, security officials said.

It comes after attempts to engage insurgents in peace talks collapsed this week.

"At least 40 militants were killed in the precision strikes in the Mir Ali area," one Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters.

"Six different locations were bombed."

Another official said among the army's targets were training camps run by Uzbek and Turkmen fighters.

Security officials had earlier said 15 people were killed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif authorised the air strikes, a source in his office said.

The action is a possible sign Mr Sharif is giving in to pressure from the military for tougher military action against Pakistani Taliban strongholds.

"After restraining the army for three days, the prime minister himself authorised the strikes last night," the government official said.

"It was the only option to teach the Taliban a lesson."

Mr Sharif, who came to power last year promising to find a negotiated peace with the Taliban, has been trying to engage the militants in negotiations.

But talks broke down this week when a Taliban wing operating in the Mohmand Pashtun tribal region said it had executed 23 soldiers in revenge for the killing of their fighters by the security forces.

The air strikes could herald a broader military offensive in North Waziristan, a region where many al-Qaeda-linked militants are based.

The morning air attacks came just hours after the army said more than 100 soldiers had been killed by Taliban militants in the last five months, a rare admission of relatively heavy casualties.

In an unusually tough statement, Mr Sharif's spokesman said in televised remarks last night that the army was capable of crushing all enemies.

"The prime minister wants to resolve these issues without bloodshed but if the Taliban continue killing people then we will be left with no choice but to keep our citizens safe from terrorism through any means possible," spokesman Pervez Rashid said.