ISLAMABAD, Sept 10, (Agencies): Pakistan’s military said Wednesday it had killed 65 militants and destroyed five hideouts in fresh air strikes as part of a major offensive against the Taleban in the northwest. The strikes, carried out in two phases hours apart, targeted areas in the North Waziristan tribal region, where the military has been conducting a major offensive since mid-June, the army said in a statement. The strikes came a day after the Pakistani Taleban took credit for a weekend attack on a navy dockyard on the other side of the country, in the port city of Karachi.
Also Wednesday, Pakistan’s defense minister said authorities investigating a weekend attack on a navy dockyard in the port city of Karachi cannot rule out possible involvement of some navy personnel in the assault. North Waziristan has long been home to a mix of local and al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants, including armed groups which carry out cross-border attacks on US and other NATO troops in Afghanistan. The army launched the much-awaited operation there on June 15, following a deadly militant attack on country’s one of the busiest airports in Karachi. Wednesday’s deaths brought to almost 975 the number of militants the military says it has killed in air and ground attacks in North Waziristan.
The area, however, is off limits to journalists, making it impossible to confirm military claims independently. Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war on terror, and local Taleban in a bid to overthrow the government and install their own harsh brand of Islamic law often target the country’s security forces, killing tens of thousands of Pakistanis in the last decade. In the first batch of Wednesday airstrikes, the military reported killing 35 militants in three hideouts in Datta Khel, a town in North Waziristan.
Hours later, it said a second batch of airstrikes destroyed two more hideouts in the tribal region’s Shawal Valley, killing 30 more militants. The strikes came a day after the Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack on the dockyard in Karachi.
Taleban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location on Tuesday that some naval officials helped the insurgents carry out the attack. He said the Taleban launched the assault as revenge for the army operation in North Waziristan. Navy officials only acknowledged the attack Monday night, but said nothing about whether naval officials assisted the militants.
The navy said seven of the sailors were also wounded in the attack, which killed a sailor and two militants. Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif told the parliament in Islamabad on Tuesday that some of the detained men were from the Navy. He said “some naval officials” were also involved in the attack. On Wednesday, Asif told lawmakers it was impossible for the attackers to enter the dockyard and target the troops there without “inside help”. The defense minister said a former naval officer expelled from the Pakistan Navy in 2013 was suspected of involvement in the attack. Asif said Pakistani troops fought “valiantly” and foiled the attack, arresting seven of the attackers who were armed with pistols and suicide jackets.