World

Pakistan warplanes attack Taliban in area 100km from capital

Pakistan launched air strikes against Taliban positions in the Afghan border region on Tuesday, as part of the military's expanded offensive to expel militants from a contested district just 100 kilometres from the capital Islamabad.
A Pakistani army soldier is seen with heavy artillery on Tuesday on the outskirts of Timargarh, the main town of Pakistan's Lower Dir district, where security forces have launched an operation against militants. ((Ruhullah Shakir/Associated Press))

Pakistan launched air strikes against Taliban positions in the Afghan border region on Tuesday, as part of the military's expanded offensive to expel militants from a contested district just 100 kilometres from the capital Islamabad.

Military spokesman Maj. Nasir Khan said fighter jets have begun attacking Taliban hideouts in Buner district after the military warned militants to flee earlier in the day. 

He said ground troops also are preparing to enter Buner, a district militant fighters recently entered from their strongholds in the neighouring Swat valley

The decision to expand the offensive could test Pakistan's heavily-criticized peace deal reached earlier this year with the Taliban in the country's embattled northwest frontier region.

The military began an operation in the nearby Lower Dir district on Sunday in an attempt to halt militant attacks on security forces and numerous abductions of prominent people for ransom.

Tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly fled their homes to escape the fighting since Sunday, according to international aid groups.

The Interior Ministry said 70 militants were killed in two days of fighting, but about 450 militants remained in Buner as of Tuesday.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, had come under increasing pressure by U.S. and other western governments to do more to curtail the growing influence of the Taliban in parts of the country, especially in Buner for its proximity to the capital.

U.S. and NATO officials have also condemned Pakistan's peace deal with the Taliban, saying they fear it creates a sanctuary for al-Qaeda allies who launch attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In exchange for the ceasefire, the Pakistani government agreed in February to the Taliban imposing Islamic law in Swat, Buner, Dir and other districts that make up the Malakand division, a vast tract not far from Afghanistan. 

The deal's proponents say it addresses long-standing local demands for a more efficient judicial system, a grievance exploited by the Taliban, and was the best hope for ending some two years of bloodshed in the Swat valley.

The Taliban seized control of Swat, once an alpine resort, in a violent uprising in 2007 that pushed tens of thousands of residents from the area.

With files from The Associated Press