Pakistan Hits Taliban Targets for Second Day

Pakistani troops, artillery and helicopter gunships hit targets in the country’s tribal areas on Thursday, 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 told AFP that the bodies of two people killed in Thursday’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 on Thursday, destroying shops and houses, local residents and officials said.

The official said a curfew had been imposed in the whole of North Waziristan.

– Shops destroyed –

He added that troops on the ground had begun a door to door search operation for militants.

An official statement from the army said a military camp in Miranshah had come under attack from insurgents, who were successuly repelled.

In the nearby town of Mir Ali, the military also targeted militant hideouts and helicopters fired shells on suspected hide outs.

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 in North Waziristan, from where they launch attacks against US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

But it was not clear that the latest military action was the beginning of such an operation. The armed forces carried out similar strikes in January.

There have been a number of insurgent attacks on security forces in recent weeks and the air raids and the current strikes fit a pattern of the armed forces responding by hitting the insurgents’ bases in the tribal areas.