Pakistan’s army has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan.
According to a statement issued by the Pakistani army, operations had begun around Miranshah, the main town in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The move follows air strikes which the army says have killed 370 militants. There is no confirmation of the figure.
North Waziristan has long been a sanctuary for militants. Correspondents say many are thought to have left the area before the offensive began.
Pakistan’s army has launched a ground offensive against Taliban militants in North Waziristan (photo AFP)
The assault comes three weeks after militants attacked Pakistan’s largest airport in Karachi, leaving more than 30 people dead.
For the past two weeks, Pakistani forces have been carrying out air strikes against what it says are militant hideouts in North Waziristan.
Among their targets, they say, have been Uzbek militants who claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack and their Pakistani Taliban (TTP) allies.
Monday’s army statement said troops were now conducting a door-to-door search in Miranshah.
“Troops have recovered underground tunnels and IED [improvised explosive device] preparation factories,” the statement said.
The town has been one of the main TTP bases during recent years when militants who had at times been tolerated by the military killed thousands of people in a bombing campaign across Pakistan.
In public statements, Pakistani commanders have said they will not discriminate between so-called good and bad Taliban.
However, there are widespread reports from within North Waziristan that many militants were allowed to escape before the operations began.
Nearly half a million people have left North Waziristan since the offensive was announced following the Karachi airport attack.
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At least 32 militants including “important commanders” have been killed in North Waziristan air strikes.
Pakistani officials described precision air strikes on targets near the border with Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in bomb attacks since the Pakistani Taliban began its campaign against the central government in 2007.
At least 32 militants including important commanders have been killed in North Waziristan air strikes
Several offensives have been launched against the militants, but the government is also pursuing talks.
“Before the launch of the air strikes, we had confirmed intelligence information about hideouts of the militants and their top commanders,” said a senior military official in Miranshah quoted by the Reuters news agency.
The army said in a statement that the strikes were targeting militants involved in attacks against Pakistani armed forces and Pakistani soldiers.
At least nine soldiers were killed and several critically wounded by a roadside bomb in the region earlier this month.
There have been similar air strikes since the beginning of the year, but this operation appears to have been the largest in a while.
North Waziristan, one of seven lawless tribal districts in Pakistan’s north-west, is a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda linked militants.
The peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban stalled after one round of negotiations in February, and a 40-day ceasefire between the two sides came to an end in mid-April.
At least 21 suspected militants have been killed in two separate attacks of an unmanned US drone aircraft in north-west Pakistan, according to Pakistani security officials.
The missiles struck targets in the North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.
Pakistan has previously complained that such attacks violate its sovereignty.
Last month, President Barack Obama defended the use of drones to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Security officials said that in the first attack two missiles killed at least five militants. Several others were wounded, although the exact number could not be established.
A second attack in the same area, near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, killed 15 Uzbek fighters, officials said.
There is no way of getting independent confirmation of the figures as reporters are prevented by the authorities from travelling to the region.
The area is known as a sanctuary in Pakistan for the Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Another drone attack last week hit a house in Spalga, killing at least nine people, including some Pakistani Taliban militants.
The US does not normally comment on drone operations, which have killed hundreds of people in recent years.
The recent attacks come a week after officials said one of the most senior al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Badar Mansoor, was killed in a US drone strike.
Islamabad is hosting talks on Thursday and Friday with leaders of Afghanistan and Iran to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation, and strengthening regional stability.