ISLAMABAD (TIP): Pakistan launched a ground offensive against militant strongholds near the Afghan border on July 1 after evacuating nearly half a million people from the tribal region, the army said.

The ground offensive is the second phase of a long awaited operation against militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, a lawless, mountainous stretch of land in northwest Pakistan. The military announced the operation on June 15 but has mostly limited its tactics to airstrikes while giving time to hundreds of thousands of people to pack up their belongings and leave to safer areas.

The army began a houseto-house search in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, the army said. It said 15 militants were killed in the initial ground advance. The town is also the headquarters for a number of different militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban.

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