Pakistani planes pound Taliban hideouts, killing 38

AFP-JIJI

Pakistani fighter jets launched airstrikes Sunday on militant hideouts in the northwest, killing at least 38 people, according to officials, in the latest retaliation for attacks by insurgents that have derailed peace talks.

The early morning strikes, made on militant hideouts in the Tirah valley, were the third in the series of raids by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) since Feb. 20.

They follow the execution of 23 Pakistan soldiers by the Taliban last week, an act which cast doubts over dialogue initiated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Jan. 29.

“There are confirmed reports that 38 terrorists including some important commanders were killed,” a statement by the military said, adding that “six hideouts were completely destroyed.”

Earlier, a senior security official in Islamabad said IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) factories and explosive materials were destroyed.

Local administration officials refused to comment, saying it was a matter for the military, and the tolls could not be independently verified as it is difficult for journalists to enter the area.

In another violent incident Sunday, a bomb planted near a bus stop killed 12 people including two women and a child in a northwestern Pakistani city, police said.

Police said around 5 kg of explosive were planted in a cooking oil container and placed near the bus stop in the city centre before being detonated remotely.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, but such attacks are regularly staged by the Pakistani Taliban.

On Saturday, at least nine militants were killed when Pakistani gunship helicopters pounded Taliban hideouts in the Hangu district, near tribal areas where militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have strongholds.

Two days earlier, security officials claimed they killed over 30 militants including 16 Uzbeks in airstrikes conducted in the northwest, infiltrated by the local and foreign militants.

The airstrikes and spiralling violence have cast serious doubt on a troubled peace process between the government and the insurgents that began just three weeks ago.

After several rounds of talks, government mediators pulled out of scheduled dialogue with their Taliban counterparts on Monday amid outrage over the claimed execution of 23 kidnapped soldiers.

A faction of the Islamist movement from Mohmand near the Afghan border said on Feb. 16 they had killed the soldiers who were seized in the area in June 2010.

Government mediators have set a cease-fire as a precondition for another round of talks, but Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, blamed Islamabad on Friday for the deadlock and asked the state to declare a cease-fire first.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella grouping of numerous militant factions, has been waging a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007, carrying out a number of bomb and gun attacks, often on military targets.