Airstrikes kill 10 militants in NW Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Fighter jets pounded militant hideouts in northwestern Pakistan today, killing 10 suspected insurgents as part of a military operation that has eliminated more than 300 fighters in the last three weeks, said a local official.

The strikes came as the Pakistani military carried out its largest military exercise in two decades in southeastern Pakistan. The monthlong operation, which started Saturday, will involve some 20,000 troops backed by tanks, artillery and air power, the army said in a statement. It is likely intended as a show of muscle as the military battles a violent Taliban-led insurgency.

The military launched its latest offensive in March to rout members of the Pakistani Taliban from the Orakzai tribal region. Many militants fled there after the army staged a large ground offensive last year against the group's main stronghold in South Waziristan, also close to the Afghan border.

Today's airstrikes destroyed three hideouts in the Sangram area of Orakzai, said Samiullah Khan, a local administrator. They came a day after some 54 alleged militants were killed during ongoing clashes over a checkpoint in Baizoti town in Orakzai.

It is nearly impossible to independently verify the government's reports because journalists are banned from traveling to Orakzai.

Despite intense military pressure, militants in the northwest have continued their attacks against security forces and civilians. Before dawn Sunday, gunmen ambushed a police patrol as it was crossing a bridge in the town of Mardan, killing one officer and wounding two others, said local police official Jawed Khan.

Authorities also found the body of a second police officer at a checkpoint several miles (kilometers) from the ambush site. His throat had been cut, said Khan.

Mardan is located in North West Frontier Province, an area where the military has battled a persistent Taliban insurgency.