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Central & South Asia

Pakistani jets pound 'fighter hideouts'

Officials say 18 killed in latest strikes since peace talks between the Taliban and government broke down.

Last updated: 23 Feb 2014 11:41
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Taliban and government negotiators Sami ul-Haq (R) and Irfan Siddiqui (L) met before talks ended recently [Reuters]

Pakistani fighter jets have attacked suspected hideouts of fighters in tribal areas on the Afghanistan border, killing at least 18 people, officials said, the third in a series of air strikes since last week.

Sunday's air strikes were the latest since peace negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban broke down last week, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif authorised the army to launch raids against fighters in the volatile region.

"Fighter jets pounded training facilities of the terrorists in Tirah Valley early on Sunday," the Reuters news agency quoted one military official as saying.

He said the destroyed facilities were used to train suicide bombers and make explosives.

There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties.

Despite the violence, both sides insist they are still open for negotiations.

But last week, the Taliban told the government there was no chance of peace in the country unless Pakistan changed its political and legal system and officially embraced Islamic law.

This year has been marked by a surge in violence across the country and Sharif is under intense pressure from hawks in the army to mount a tougher military response against the group.

Speculation has been growing in past weeks that the army might be preparing for a big ground and air offensive against those fighters holed up in the North Waziristan region, but so far raids have been limited to short aerial operations.

On Saturday, at least nine people were killed in helicopter gunship raids in the Hangu district, while on Thursday, at least 15 people died when fighter jets bombed the Mir Ali area of the tribal belt straddling the Afghan border.

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