Above: Damage caused by last week’s attack at Karachi’s airport
Nearly 80 militants, mainly ethnic Uzbek fighters, were killed in the latest air assault in the region bordering Afghanistan, where some of Pakistan’s most feared militants and al-Qaeda commanders are based, intelligence sources said. They said that the man who masterminded the Karachi airport strike was among the dead.
“Fighter jets targeted militant hideouts in the village of Dagan near the Pakistani-Afghan border,” said one source in the regional capital of Miranshah.
“An important Uzbek commander, Abdul Rehman, has been killed in the air strike,” on Sunday he told the Reuters news agency, adding that Rehman was directly involved in planning the Karachi airport attack.
Uzbeks with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant outfit based in North Waziristan, claimed responsibility for last Sunday’s commando-style attack on Karachi airport, during which a squad of highly trained militants raided the facility.
The all-night assault damaged prospects of peace talks with the militants who are fighting to topple the government in the capital Islamabad and impose a strict Sharia-based theocracy in the nuclear-armed nation.
After the Karachi attack, in which 38 people were killed, US drones conducted the first air strikes in Pakistan since the start of the year, hitting militant positions.
Pakistani air force jets have also been hitting militant hideouts and there has been increased speculation that the army is preparing for a major ground and air offensive in the region.
In anticipation of more violence, families have been fleeing North Waziristan into other parts of Pakistan as an atmosphere of fear has gripped the mountainous region.
Pakistani authorities also fear that militants themselves may be fleeing the area too, possibly into neighbouring Afghanistan, making it harder to kill or capture them.
Officials said a curfew had been imposed in the region and the army was setting up more checkpoints to improve security.