Pakistani troops on Friday began a ‘massive’ offensive to try to push the Taliban from their last major stronghold in the mountainous northwestern region of North Waziristan, moving in from north and south, officials and residents said.
The heavily forested ravines of the Shawal Valley are pockmarked with Taliban hideouts and the valley itself is a key smuggling route into neighbouring Afghanistan.
Pakistani jets began bombing the valley in the early hours, killing between six and 15 militants, four intelligence sources told Reuters.
“It is a massive military action against the Taliban militants and their allies in the Shawal mountains,” said a government official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about military operations.
The Pakistani Taliban controlled almost all of North Waziristan until troops launched a long-awaited offensive there in June. The Taliban still maintain control of Shawal Valley and have used it as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistani forces.
A spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
The Pakistani Taliban are allied with Afghan Taliban and share a similar jihadist ideology. But they operate as a separate entity, focused on toppling the Pakistani state and establishing strict Islamic rule in the nuclear-armed nation.
NATO forces, which left Afghanistan last year, repeatedly urged Pakistan to take action against Taliban havens along its border.
Residents said tanks and soldiers were approaching the valley from the north and south.
“Hundreds of trucks and pickups full of soldiers and weapons…are moving towards Shawal,” said Zainullah, a telephone operator in Shawal Valley.