Pakistan deploys troops, jets in anti-militant offensive

Pakistan deploys troops, jets in anti-militant offensive
Pakistani residents pack belongings into a van in Miranshah in the North Waziristan tribal agency.

MIRANSHAH - Pakistan on Monday launched fresh air strikes on the northwest tribal region where it has deployed up to 30,000 troops in a long-awaited offensive to eliminate Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants from their border stronghold.

The action in North Waziristan was launched a week after a brazen insurgent attack on Pakistan's main airport in Karachi which left dozens dead and marked the end of a troubled peace process.

The offensive was announced on Sunday, shortly after airstrikes killed at least 105 people including insurgents linked to the airport raid, and jets and helicopter gunships continued to pound the region over the weekend.

A local security official said fighter jets bombed two government schools west of Miranshah - the main town of North Waziristan - early Monday, killing at least 10 Uzbek militants who were sheltering in them.

The military announced the offensive on Sunday, saying it would wage "a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan".

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that the time for dialogue was over and that the nation could no longer tolerate attacks on "innocent Pakistanis and damage to national assets".

"This operation will continue till the surrender or elimination of enemy," he said.

The Karachi airport siege was claimed by Taliban and Uzbek militants holed up in the district on Afghanistan's border - considered the last remaining stronghold of Islamist militants in the region.

An operation in the region has been a long-standing demand of Pakistan's Western allies. Washington accuses Islamabad of using the area to give sanctuary to the Haqqani network of fighters, known for their raids on NATO targets inside Afghanistan.

A military official in Miranshah told AFP: "Thousands of troops will participate in this action. You can roughly say 25,000 to 30,000 troops will be involved in the operation.

"We are trying to finish this operation as soon as possible but can't give an exact time frame. It can conclude in a few days but can also take longer," he added.

At least another 10 militants were killed in attacks by Pakistani helicopter gunships in the village of Mir Ali as the fighting got underway Sunday, a local intelligence official in Miranshah said.

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