At least 30 people, reportedly allied to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have been killed in a series of early morning airstrikes in the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, security sources have told Al Jazeera.
The strikes took place in the Pasht Ziarat area of the Shawal Valley, on the border between the two tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Tuesday morning.
The area is located about 40km southwest of Miran Shah, the main city in North Waziristan, where the TTP is mainly based.
The strikes, carried out by fighter jets, targeted "terrorist hideouts", a security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.
A simultaneous strike also took place on the village of Ghariom, about 30km southeast of Miran Shah, they said. The strikes are the latest in a series of air raids by Pakistani forces against Tehreek-e-Taliban forces and their allies in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and the Khyber tribal area.
In total, between 60 and 100 people have been killed in military operations involving fighter jets and helicopter gunships in those areas since a faction of the TTP claimed responsibility for killing 23 paramilitary personnel on February 16.
Failed peace talks
There is limited information on civilian casualties in the airstrikes, as access to the remote tribal areas is tightly controlled by both the government and the TTP.
The February 16 announcement left a nascent dialogue process between the government and a Taliban-appointed committee in disarray.
Talks had previously broken down over the issue of a ceasefire, as TTP attacks against state targets - and military retaliation - continued even as the talks were ongoing.
On Monday, at least two security forces personnel were killed and a dozen wounded in an attack near the Iranian consulate in the northwestern city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.
Also on Monday, Asmatullah Shaheen, a senior leader of the TTP who has previously served as its interim chief, was killed in targeted attack in North Waziristan. It was unclear who carried out the attack.
The dialogue process with the government, and the leadership selection process held in the wake of the killing of former TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud's killing by a US drone in November last year, has led to internal divisions within the TTP, security sources and analysts say.
On Tuesday, the KPK district of Charsadda saw another explosion, this time targeting a police van. There were, however, no casualties in that attack, police sources said.
The escalation of hostilities has led some families to flee North Waziristan. While there was no independent confirmation of an exact figure, local sources say hundreds have fled North Waziristan for the adjoining district of Bannu, in anticipation of a military operation.
On February 20, provincial disaster management officials in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa held a meeting in the provincial capital to discuss how to deal with the expected outpouring of internally displaced persons from the tribal areas.
Years of conflict, involving both constant TTP attacks and retaliatory military operations, and a fragile security situation, have left at least 747,498 people internally displaced from the tribal areas, according to the UNHCR.
Analsyts say that the fresh airstrikes will result not only in increased numbers of IDPs, but also in possible retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.
“When you apply force on an animate object, then there are finite ways to predict the reaction. Obviously the enemy is going to strike back, find your weak spot, and the weak spot in this case are the urban centres, where you have thousands of soft targets spread around, and once you put pressure on them, they'll obviously strike back," Ejaz Haider, a senior journalist and national security analyst, told Al Jazeera.
The authorities, too, have been preparing for such attacks. On Thursday morning, hours after the airstrikes, the Peshawar police issued a “red alert”, warning that they had intercepted communication indicating that five suicide bombers were planning on targeting the Peshawar central jail.
In Islamabad, meanwhile, the cabinet held a closed door meeting to finalise the government’s national security policy on Tuesday.
Officials said that the policy would be publically announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.
Source: Al Jazeera