Pakistan airstrikes against Haqqani militants kill 20: military

AFP , Tuesday 25 Nov 2014

Pakistanis officials said jet fighters Tuesday killed 20 suspected members of the feared Haqqani network, accused of some of the bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan including a blast that left 57 people dead last weekend.

The air strikes were carried out in the Doga Madakhel area of North Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border, where the military has been mounting an offensive against Islamist militant strongholds since June.

The military said in a text message to journalists that "twenty terrorists were killed in precise aerial strikes in North Waziristan", without giving further details.

Two intelligence officials in the northwest told AFP the jets targeted hideouts of the Haqqani network and of local warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Afghan officials said the Haqqanis, who are aligned with the Afghan Taliban, were behind Sunday's horrific suicide blast at a volleyball match in the east of the country.

"The dead included seven fighters of Haqqanis while the rest belonged to Gul Bahadur," one intelligence official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

A second intelligence official confirmed that the target of Tuesday's airstrikes were the Haqqani network and fighters of Gul Bahadur.

The official told AFP that a local Haqqani commander was among the dead, but his identity had not yet been ascertained.

Bahadur, a prominent local warlord once seen as "pro-Pakistani", is unhappy with the military offensive in North Waziristan.

US officials have long urged Islamabad to do more to stop the Haqqanis using North Waziristan as a base to target Afghan and NATO troops across the border.

Many believe that Pakistan's security services see the Haqqanis as an "asset" and maintain close links with them, with one senior US official once describing them as a "veritable arm" of the country's ISI spy agency.

A day before the airstrikes, a Western diplomat said the Pakistani military and government's stated commitment to pursue all insurgents was welcome. But the envoy voiced scepticism about whether this had been put into effect.

It was not possible independently to verify the casualties as media are banned from the area.

Pakistani jets and artillery began targeting rebel strongholds in North Waziristan in mid-June and ground forces moved in on June 30.

The army says it has killed more than 1,100 militants and lost more than 100 soldiers since the start of the operation.

An AFP tally based on regular updates from the military puts the militant death toll at nearly 1,500, with 125 soldiers killed.

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