BANNU, Pakistan – Pakistani jets pounded targets in the country’s northwest on Monday as the military suffered its first casualties in a major offensive designed to root out safe havens in the volatile region.
The air strikes are part of a long-awaited operation against foreign and local militants in North Waziristan, an essentially lawless tribal region that has served as a training base for militants and a staging point for insurgents who attack Pakistan and NATO and Afghan troops across the border. The operation started Sunday.
The United States has for years complained to Pakistan about its failure to impose order in a region harboring what Washington considers the country’s most dangerous militants, and has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in the area.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has promoted the talks, defended military action during a speech to parliament on Monday.
Sharif said the government had tried for more than four months to talk to the militants but their violence continued. He said that Pakistan could not become a safe haven for militants.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States has long supported Pakistani efforts to extend sovereignty throughout the country and bring stability, but she emphasized this was an “entirely Pakistan led and executed operation.”
The air strikes early Monday targeted six hideouts near the border with South Waziristan, a neighboring tribal region, killing 27 militants, the military said.
Separately, the military said 14 militants were killed in separate confrontations while three others were shot trying to lay roadside bombs near Miran Shah, one of the region’s main towns. Altogether the military reported that nearly 200 militants had been killed during the two-day offensive.
The military said eight troops died Monday – six by a roadside bomb and two during a shootout with militants – as the Pakistani Taliban warned that more violence could be in the offing.
A spokesman for the militants warned in a statement that international investors, foreign airlines, and multinational organizations should leave Pakistan or they would be considered supporters of the government and fair game.