Pakistan launches airstrikes against militants, killing 60

Pakistani airstrikes bombard militant hideouts; 60 killed

Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships pounded militant hideouts in volatile North Waziristan before dawn on Wednesday, killing 60 militants and wounding about 30 others, Pakistani army officials said, citing intelligence reports.

The airstrikes were the deadliest in months and came as the Islamabad government has been trying unsuccessfully to restart peace talks with militants based in North Waziristan and neighboring tribal regions.

Security officials said that hideouts came under attack in several villages in Mir Ali, east of the administrative capital of North Waziristan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the operation.

An official said key commanders of the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of local and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants seeking to overthrow the Islamabad government, were among the dead. Also killed, officials said, were perpetrators of recent attacks on security forces and civilians in Peshawar and other parts of neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The claims could not be independently verified because the government bars foreign media from visiting the tribal areas.

Local authorities declared a curfew following the airstrikes. Some civilians reportedly fled their homes in the attacks but details were not immediately available.

The airstrikes came as Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure from the army and some political parties to end his bid for peace talks with the militants and take decisive military action.

Earlier this week, the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, visited neighboring Afghanistan to meet with commanders of the Afghan army and the U.S.-led military coalition. Pakistani media reported that Sharif gave assurances that his forces would crack down on militants in the border areas before the second round of the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for June 14.

The Pakistani Taliban -- known by its Urdu name, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP -- called off a cease-fire on April 17, after which attacks on civilians and security forces increased. Officials also said the TTP has split into northern and southern factions that are battling each other for territory.

The head of the TTP, Maulana Fazlullah, released a video message last week, reportedly from his hideout in Afghanistan, asking suicide bombers to prepare themselves for attacks on Pakistani security forces.

Ali is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Mumbai, India.

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