ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – Pakistani jet fighters killed 30 militants in remote, forested mountains on the Afghan border on Saturday, the military said, as U.S. forces spearhead one of NATO’s biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Pakistani security forces launched a major offensive against the al Qaeda-backed Pakistani Taliban in their main bastion of South Waziristan in October and the military has captured most militant bases in the region.
The Saturday air raid was in Shawal, a militant sanctuary near the border of the South and North Waziristan regions, where many militants are believed to have sought refuge from the October offensive.
Al Qaeda militants are also known to operate in the area.
The security forces, as well as attacking indigenous Taliban who are trying to bring down the U.S.-backed government, have also stepped up action against Afghan Taliban on its soil, arresting at least three senior members, including their number two man, this month.
“The hideout in Shawal was targeted after we were tipped off that terrorists were hiding in the mountains,” a military spokesman said, adding 30 of them had been killed. There was no independent verification of the toll.
Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal areas have been a global militant hub since Islamist fighters flocked there to battle Soviet forces over the border in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Apart from the Afghan campaign, the United States has also been attacking militants in northwestern Pakistan with missile-firing drone aircraft.
A son of the leader of a major Afghan Taliban faction attacking Western forces in Afghanistan was killed in a missile strike by a U.S. drone in North Waziristan on Thursday.
The killing of Mohammad Haqqani, a son of veteran Afghan guerrilla commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, came days after the arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s top miliary strategist, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation in the city of Karachi.
Two other senior Taliban members have been picked up in Pakistan in recent days, according to Afghan officials.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke on Thursday hailed the arrest of Afghan Taliban number two Baradar as a high-water mark for Pakistani-U.S. collaboration.
The United States has for years badgered Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban factions on its soil. But the Afghan Taliban have not launched attacks in Pakistan where the government has been saying its hands have been full fighting its homegrown Taliban who have killed hundreds of people with bomb attacks across the country.
Pakistani cooperation with the United States is a sensitive issue for the government of a country where many people are suspicious of the U.S.-led campaign against militancy.
The government has said little about the capture of Baradar though it denied he was arrested because of U.S. pressure.
Despite the government’s reticence, the Pakistani action illustrated growing cooperation between the United States and its ally, a security analyst said. “There is a definite qualitative change in the relationship … there is a greater level of cooperation,” said Talat Masood, a retired army general turned analyst. “The Pakistan army is being far more robust in its activities.” But the militants are fighting back. A policeman was killed and three wounded in a suicide bomb attack in the northwestern town of Balakot, police said.
Police shot dead another bomber in the nearby town of Mansehra as he tried to force his way into a police station, they said.