Pakistani jets bombard militants hideouts, kill 15

PESHAWAR (AFP) - Pakistan's air force jets Saturday (Feb 27) pounded militants' hideouts in the northwestern tribal belt close to the Afghanistan border and killed at least 15 Taleban insurgents, security officials said.

The strikes were carried out in the Maizer area of the Datta Khail region in North Waziristan tribal district, which is considered as the last bastion of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants.

"As many as four hideouts were destroyed in the strikes this morning. Among the 15 killed militants six were Uzbeks," a security official in the area told AFP.

Another senior security official in Peshawar confirmed the strikes but did not give a death toll.

"The air strikes have increased in the last few days and we have hit the targets today also. But I can't give a collective toll because we have hit the hideouts many times during the last few days and the number of dead militants may vary," he said.

Pakistan's military announced on Wednesday that it has begun the "last phase" of a bloody operation targeting militants in the restive northwest region along the Afghan border and that powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif had given the order to launch the final phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan.

Pakistan began its operation in June 2014, after a bloody Taleban attack on Karachi airport finally sank faltering peace talks earlier that year.

Also on Saturday, a Pakistan army soldier was killed and two others wounded when their vehicle hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted on a roadside in Datta Khail. The incident took place despite a curfew imposed in several areas of the region.

The conflict zone is remote and off-limits to journalists, making it difficult to verify the army's claims, including the number and identity of those killed.

Pakistan's Islamist insurgency began after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in 2001 which led to a spillover of militants across the border and a surge in recruitment for Pakistani militant groups.

Pakistan's relative success in fighting militancy stands in marked contrast to Afghanistan, which is facing record numbers of civilian casualties following the withdrawal of NATO combat troops at the end of 2014.