PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan carried out early morning air strikes Tuesday on a militant-infested tribal district, killing at least 15 people, the military said, a day after a brazen Taliban assault on Karachi airport.
A military statement said “9 terrorist hideouts were destroyed” in the raids, which came after the Taliban stormed Pakistan’s biggest airport, killing at least 30 people in an all-night battle on Monday.
The death toll from Tuesday’s strikes, in the restive Tirah Valley area of Khyber tribal district, could not be independently verified.
Pressure has built on the military to act after Monday’s attack by at least 10 militants, which left a nascent peace process in tatters and raised questions about how they were able to penetrate the airport in Pakistan’s economic hub.
The air strikes are the latest in a succession of such attacks carried out by the Pakistani military in the tribal belt this year after talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) broke down.
The last were carried out in North Waziristan in late May, killing at least 75 people and causing some 58,000 people to flee from the district in fear of a fuller ground offensive that has been anticipated for years.
The Khyber district itself was targeted previously in April in aerial bombing that killed 37 people.
The district is believed to be home to several militant factions, most notably Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, as well foreign fighters from Central Asia.
Pakistan began talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in February, with a ceasefire agreed in March but breaking down a month later.
Pressure on government
Many observers believe that following the attack on Karachi the process is all but dead and the government is under pressure to react – though the prime target remains North Waziristan agency, the main stronghold of TTP and Al-Qaeda linked militants.
An offensive in North Waziristan has been rumored for years but analysts remain cautious about whether the military has the capacity to attempt such a move without assistance from the Afghan side of the border where militants are likely to flee in the event of an attack.
Talat Masood, a retired general and security analyst, said there was pressure on the government to target both North Waziristan as well as TTP sleeper cells in major cities, especially Karachi, which has a large population from the tribal areas.
“There is an urgent need to neutralize such attacks and the government should take firm action in the areas which are their hideouts,” he said. “A simultaneous action should be taken against the militants in Karachi and elsewhere along with North Waziristan.” – Rappler.com
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