At least 40, reportedly including civilians, dead as military bombardment of suspected militant hideouts continues for third day.
Troops pounded suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan for a third day on Friday, as the death toll rose to 40 and local residents claimed the operation had left several civilians dead.
Clashes between security forces and militants have been rocking North Waziristan, on the Afghan border, since Wednesday evening when a suicide bombing killed five soldiers at a checkpoint in the town of Mir Ali. A few hours later, militants attacked security forces as they returned after rescuing soldiers wounded in the bombing, prompting the military to respond with mortars, artillery and helicopter gunships in a search operation to catch the insurgents.
The death toll from the clashes rose to at least 40 on Friday as four more bodies were recovered from the debris of two hotels that came under heavy fire after fleeing militants used them to take refuge.
The military says all of those killed in the operation were Taliban militants, but locals said many of those who died in the hotels were drivers forced to stay there by a curfew imposed on Tuesday.
Nazir Khan Wazir, a parliamentarian from the area, said most of those killed and wounded were not militants. “Most of those killed and wounded were innocent civilians. People are facing a terrible time. They are trapped in their houses,” he said. “Dozens of houses have been damaged by shelling. Residents are also facing food shortages.” Wazir also appealed to the government to stop the bombardment so locals could bury their dead and take the wounded to hospital.
A senior security official said the search operation was still going on in Mir Ali and surrounding areas.
Maulvi Gul Abbas, a cleric in Mir Ali, said that residents were not able to sleep because of the continuous firing. “Dozens of houses have been damaged. All those killed inside the houses were local residents,” Abbas said.