May 21, 2015 / 8:54 PM / in 3 years

Air strikes kill 15 suspected militants in northwest Pakistan

PARACHINAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Air strikes killed at least 15 suspected militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Shawal Valley on Thursday, intelligence officials said, a week after security forces moved toward Taliban strongholds there.

The deeply forested ravines are a major smuggling route from Pakistan into Afghanistan and are dotted with Taliban bases used to launch attacks on Pakistani forces.

A local security commander and two intelligence officials said that between 15 and 16 suspected militants were killed in Thursday’s strikes in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.

The Taliban used to control all of North Waziristan, a mountainous region that includes the Shawal Valley and runs along the Afghan border. But the Pakistani military launched an operation there last June and has recaptured most of it.

NATO forces had long urged Pakistan to launch such an offensive, saying Taliban safe havens in Pakistan were being used to attack NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Now locals say that the military is gearing up for an operation in Shawal Valley, where the Taliban still freely operate.

The area is a bastion of Khan “Sajna” Said, a leader of a Taliban faction whose name was added to a sanctions list of “specially designated global terrorists” by U.S. authorities last year.

There have been a number of air strikes in the Shawal Valley over the past week and two drone strikes, but no sign of a large ground offensive.

Most phone lines to the area have been cut off and military roadblocks prevent civilian movement.

Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Hafiz Wazir in Wana; Editing by Louise Ireland

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