PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani troops killed 54 suspected insurgents in overnight airstrikes in a northwest area where dozens of militants have been slain in clashes over control of a strategic checkpoint in recent days, an official said Saturday.
The bloodshed underscored the intensity of an army offensive aimed at mopping up Pakistani Taliban fighters in Orakzai, a part of Pakistan’s tribal belt near the Afghan border where many insurgents are believed to have fled to avoid a military operation farther south.
The U.S. has endorsed Pakistan’s efforts to eliminate militants using its tribal areas to wage attacks against Islamabad as well as Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The latest strikes followed the killing of 18 suspected militants in the Baizoti town area on Friday, local official Samiullah Khan told The Associated Press. Khan said the insurgents were attacked as they entered Orakzai from the nearby Khyber tribal region to recapture the strategic checkpoint.
The information could not be independently verified because access to the tribal areas is largely restricted. Pakistan began the operation in Orakzai in mid-March and so far about 350 militants have been killed. Nearby Kurram tribal area has also witnessed fighting. Orakzai has become a key destination for Pakistani Taliban militants fleeing an army offensive against their network in the South Waziristan tribal region.