Pakistan targets rebel areas, killing 40 people

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan's military launched airstrikes Tuesday in its restive tribal areas, killing 40 suspected militants in a desperate attempt to combat terrorist attacks escalating across the country.

Tribal elders, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal from militants, said it appeared that the strikes were more accurate than past efforts had been.

The home of Adnan Rashid, a senior Taliban commander, was hit, and his family members were injured, but he escaped unhurt, the local elders said. Another strike, on Al Noor Mosque in the village of Essorhi, killed 15 people -- all reportedly militants, according to elders.

"So this time, the army gunships and jet fighters are accurately targeting the militants," one elder from the town of Mir Ali said in a phone interview.

The strikes, one of heaviest bombardments of the tribal areas in several years, follow the deaths of 20 Pakistani army soldiers in a suicide bombing Sunday. A day later, 13 people were killed in a bombing at a market near army headquarters in Rawalpindi. And on Tuesday, three people administering polio vaccinations were fatally shot in Karachi, and at least 20 Shiite pilgrims were killed when an explosion tore through their bus.

The military airstrikes began late Monday night over a troubled area of North Waziristan, a hotbed for Pakistani and foreign militants near the Afghan border. According to local officials, it was the first time the air force has resorted to aerial strikes in North Waziristan since the military struck a cease-fire agreement with local Taliban chiefs in 2007.

Military officials said those killed in the strikes included militants suspected of carrying out a September bombing that killed 85 people at a Christian church in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Although some elders interviewed said many of the fatalities were indeed Taliban militants, local residents said there were also numerous civilian casualties. They said they and their families were fleeing the area because they feared for their safety.

The strikes, which follow a series of smaller military operations in tribal areas in recent weeks, could be a sign that Pakistan's new army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, plans to take a harder line against militants. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed Gen. Sharif in late November to head Pakistan's nuclear-armed, 550,000-member military. The two men share the same last name but are not related.

The prime minister has been pushing to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which has waged a decade-long insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

But those talks have yet to begin. In the meantime, former military officials say, the country's top generals -- faced with rising violence -- have been pushing for more decisive action.


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