November 14, 2015 / 1:58 PM / 2 years ago

Pakistani air strikes kill at least 17 in former Taliban stronghold

Parachinar, PAKISTAN (Reuters) - Pakistani air strikes killed at least 17 suspected militants near the Afghan border on Saturday, officials said, part of a military offensive to retake North Waziristan, a region that was once a Taliban stronghold.

The air strikes destroyed five buildings in the Shawal Valley, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the town of Miranshah, four military and civilian officials told Reuters.

They did not confirm the affiliation of the people killed in the airstrikes. In addition to the Pakistani Taliban, North Waziristan is also home to fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and various other Pakistani and international militant groups.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, said all the dead and injured were "militants". Reuters was unable to independently verify their reports because the area is off-limits to journalists.

"I saw more than 30 people, both dead bodies and the injured, being taken from the area by local militants," villager Bismillah said via telephone.

The heavily forested Shawal Valley is a key smuggling route between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It runs through North Waziristan, once a Taliban stronghold until the Pakistani military launched an offensive there last year.

The military now holds most of North Waziristan, and Shawal has been heavily bombed since August in a bid to clear the area of remaining insurgents.

The Pakistani Taliban once controlled swathes of territory in the country's northwest but a series of military offensives that began in 2009 has pushed them back into a few pockets.

The Pakistani Taliban are separate from, but allied to, the Afghan Taliban.

Additional reporting by Haji Mujtaba in Bannu and Asad Hashim in Islamabad; Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Clelia Oziel

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