Pakistani jets killed 17 militants in the latest raid on rebel hideouts in the country’s restive northwest, officials said on Saturday.
The planes bombarded hideouts in the Dargamandi and Chashma Gaon areas of North Waziristan late on Friday, as aid agencies geared up relief efforts for refugees fleeing the military operation.
Nearly half a million people have fled the offensive in North Waziristan, which is aimed at wiping out longstanding militant strongholds in the area bordering Afghanistan.
Tens of thousands of families have fled to the town of Bannu, close to North Waziristan, while hundreds more have moved further afield to the towns of Lakki Marwat, Karak and Dera Ismail Khan since the offensive began in mid-June.
“Jet fighters bombarded militant hideouts, killing 17 rebels and destroying their six compounds,” a senior security official told reporters.
A local intelligence official confirmed the militant casualties in the aerial attack.
A full assault by ground troops has been expected for some days and the intensive shelling in several areas could indicate that it is now imminent.
Nearly 370 militants and 12 security personnel have been killed in the offensive, dubbed “Zarb-e-Azb” after a sword used in battle by the Prophet Mohammad, although the number and identity of the victims are impossible to verify.
Pakistan’s armed forces have used jet fighters, tanks and artillery in the operation that began almost two weeks ago.
The assault on the militant bastion of North Waziristan, long urged by Washington, was finally launched after a dramatic attack on Karachi airport that killed dozens of people and marked the end of a faltering peace process with the Pakistani Taliban.