ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani forces attacked the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold with aircraft and artillery on Friday a day after militants launched multiple attacks killing more than 30 people.
The government says a ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in their South Waziristan lair is imminent and the army has been stepping up its air and artillery attacks in recent days to soften up the militants’ defences.
The militants have launched a string of brazen attacks in the past 11 days, attacking the United Nations, the army headquarters, police and general public, apparently trying to stave off the army assault.
The government says the violence has only reinforced its determination to defeat its enemies.
Aircraft and artillery struck militant positions in their strongholds of Ladha, Makeen and in the mountainous Shahoor region overnight, hours after killing 27 militants in the region in various strikes.
“We could see thick smoke and flames leaping into the sky from caves in the mountains after the bombing by jet fighters,” said a resident near Shahoor who declined to be identified.
Security officials said they had no information about casualties in the latest attacks.
An army official in the region said some Taliban were trying to leave the area in disguise ahead of the offensive.
“They are now trying to run but we have tightened controls around their areas and are checking every person leaving,” said the military official in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, where the army has a base.
About 28,000 troops are in place to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban, army officials have said.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to crack down on Islamic militancy as President Barack Obama considers a boost in troop numbers fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s stock market slipped as the violence escalated at the beginning of the week, but the main index was 0.88 percent higher at 9,932.77 at 0618 GMT.
Investors would be reassured by an offensive on South Waziristan, dealers say.
Pakistani Taliban fighters made advances towards Islamabad early this year, raising fears about the stability of the U.S. ally.
But significant military gains in the Swat valley, from where militants have largely been driven out in recent months, have reassured the U.S. and Western allies about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism.
In a sign of U.S. continuing support, President Barack Obama signed on Wednesday a $7.5 billion aid bill for Pakistan over the next five years.
But Pakistan’s military has complained about the bill because the legislation ties some funds to fighting militants and is seen by critics as violating sovereignty.
Reporting by Hafiz Wazir; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeremy Laurence