‘Former Pak Taliban head among 50 killed in military operations’

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD (TIP): The former interim chief of the Pakistani Taliban was among 50 militants, including 36 foreign fighters, killed in heavy air strikes in the lawless North Waziristan region, military sources said on January 24.

The Pakistan Air Force jets had bombed suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan — a key haven for Taliban and al-Qaida elements — on Monday night, which was backed by army gunship helicopters. At least 50 militants were killed in the attack. “Most of the terrorists killed in North Waziristan strikes on night of January 20/21 are foreign fighters which include 33 Uzbeks, three Germans and reportedly important terrorist commanders,” a Pakistani military source said.

He named the militant commanders as “Wali Mohammad (predecessor of Qari Hussain), Asmat Shahin Bittani, Noor Badshah and Maulvi Farhad Uzbek”. Bhittani served as the acting TTP chief after the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud and also headed the Taliban supreme shura (decision-making council). Wali, alias Toofan, earlier headed the ‘fidayeen squad’. Pakistani combat jets had pounded militant bases in the North Waziristan, including the home of Taliban commander Adnan Rashid in retaliation for a string of deadly attacks on security forces. The operation by air force jets took many by surprise.

This was the first time the air force resorted to air strikes in North Waziristan since a ceasefire was finalised with local Taliban chiefs in 2007. Meanwhile, minister for defence production Rana Tanveer said no military operation is being carried out in North Waziristan. Talking to mediapersons in Wah Cantonment on Wednesday, he said political and military leadership have unanimity of views with regard to the strategy on Taliban. He said decision whether talks or the operation will be taken in the next few days. The minister said some groups have been contacted for the dialogue process.

North Waziristan is one of seven regions in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas governed by tribal laws. An insurgency led by the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan plagues the region. Local media reports said many civilians have started moving out from North Waziristan fearing impending full-scale military operations.

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