ISLAMABAD — Pakistani jets and artillery fired on suspected militant strongholds across North Waziristan in the early hours of today, local residents and officials said. At least 24 people were reported killed and dozens more injured.
The action by the Pakistani military was conducted on a larger scale than usual for the volatile tribal region in northwest Pakistan. It appeared to come in response to two Taliban attacks that killed at least 30 members of the security forces.
According to local residents of Mir Ali, the second-largest town in North Waziristan, jets and artillery pounded the nearby villages of Esori, Haider Khel, Hurmaz and Boya, killing at least 16 people. The area is the home to the anti-government Taliban faction Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
The United States has been urging Pakistan for years to do more to root out militants in the area, particularly those from the Haqqani network and al-Qaida. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also faced growing pressure to get tough on the militants, who have wreaked havoc in the country through a string of recent suicide bombings.
Panic gripped the area during the shelling, as residents fled the villages seeking safety.
“We were sleeping, and they attacked us in the night,” Muqeem Khan Dawar, a local schoolteacher from Mir Ali, said by telephone. “And all those killed in the shelling were civilians. We know very well who is a Taliban and who is a civilian.”
Local officials dismissed the claims of civilian casualties and insisted that security forces were going after militant hide-outs only.
“The security forces targeted militant hide-outs in the area,” a local government official said by telephone from Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. “There are reports that senior TTP commanders have been killed in the operation, but I cannot confirm their identity yet. We attacked those places where terrorist masterminds are based.”
An intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “All those killed in overnight operations are Mehsud and Uzbek fighters,” referring to Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed last year.
Artillery shelling was also carried out in Miram Shah, where local residents said at least eight people had been killed.
“Dozens have been wounded,” said Muhammad Din Wazir, an official in Miram Shah who said the death count there could go higher. “And we cannot shift them to hospitals due to curfew.”
North Waziristan is considered a main sanctuary for several militant factions, who use the region as a base to launch attacks inside both Afghanistan and Pakistan.