PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - Jets and helicopter gunships Tuesday bombarded suspected Taliban hideouts as part of a scaled-up operation in the northwestern tribal belt, killing at least 50 suspected terrorists – reportedly including a top commander.
The joint operation of Army, the Air Force and the paramilitary Frontier Corps concentrated on the hideouts in Miranshah and Mir Ali subdivisions of North Waziristan Agency and Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency.
The Miranshah house of high profile terrorist Adnan Rasheed was also destroyed in an airstrike and some security officials unofficially claimed that he had been killed. But Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied his death. A foreign news agency without quoting or even referring to any source reported that Adnan was seen alive in the marketplace of Miranshah after the airstrike.
More than 40 militants were confirmed to be killed in the NWA assault by Tuesday evening whereas at least 10 others were taken out in the Khyber Agency. The intensified ground operations are being conducted by the field formations concerned of Pakistan Army with the assistance of paramilitary FC whereas Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is leading the aerial operations, intelligence sources informed this correspondent Tuesday.
Majority of the militants in the NWA was fatally targeted in ground action and aerial attacks whereas those in Khyber Agency were killed in the aerial assaults, the intelligence officials said. “The military troops and FC are applying ground reinforcements and PAF fighter jets are positioning aerial assaults,” an intelligence insider said, claiming that dozens of militant hideouts of TTP and Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) were destroyed in the two tribal agencies.
Jet fighters began pounding targets around 12:30am, an official said, and were later joined by helicopter gunships. Military officials said the strikes were based on “confirmed intelligence reports” and some of those killed were linked to high-profile attacks including a bloody double suicide bombing on a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September.
Military sources claimed that only terrorists’ hideouts were hit in the targeted operations, though local residents said there were civilians among the dead. Independent verification of the number and identity of casualties was not possible because media and aid workers are not allowed to visit the areas.
The air strikes came a day after a Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 people in a blast near army headquarters – a rare strike close to the heart of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment. Another even more fatal attack three days ago had killed at least 26 security personnel and wounded 25 others in Bannu city, which is close to the restive tribal areas.
In claiming responsibility for the Bannu attack, the TTP threatened more strikes to avenge their former leader Hakimullah Mehsud, killed by a US drone in November. But TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid also said the group was “ready for meaningful negotiations” if the government halted US drone strikes and withdrew troops from the tribal areas.
But Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told his cabinet on Monday that the recent terror attacks were unacceptable and in a phone call to the army chief he expressed his government’s full backing to the military, emphasising the need for taking ‘extraordinary steps’ in the prevailing extraordinary circumstances.
Among the targets of Tuesday’s military strikes was Adnan Rasheed, a senior Taliban commander who wrote an open letter last year to Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education activist shot by militants, justifying the attack on her. Though there was no official claim about him but some security sources privately claimed Adnan’s killing along with his four relatives. But TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid rejected the reports of his killing.
Coming from Chota Lahore village of the Swabi district, Adnan had joined the Pakistan Air Force in 1997, before being arrested for his role in an attempt to assassinate Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi on December 14, 2003. He was subsequently awarded death sentence by a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) on October 3, 2005 along with six other Air Force men. After being convicted, Adnan was shifted to the Bannu Central Jail from the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
However, Adnan Rasheed was freed in an unprecedented jailbreak operation on April 15, 2012 when around 200 Taliban militants armed with guns, grenades and rockets attacked the high-security Bannu Central Jail and released 384 prisoners. The TTP later declared that the jail break operation was mainly carried out to free Adnan. Prior to his escape, Adnan continued to plead his innocence and claimed that his only crime was that he had voted “No” in the referendum held by the then military president Gen Musharraf.