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Airstrikes on Taleban hideouts kill 15 Pakistan army says more than 100 soldiers died in fighting

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Feb 20, (Agencies): Pakistani jets launched strikes on Taleban hideouts in the northwest on Thursday, killing 15 people according to security sources, in retaliation for attacks by the militants which have derailed peace talks.

The first raid confirmed by security officials came early Thursday when jets bombed several locations including a compound in the town of Mir Ali and surrounding parts of the North Waziristan tribal district. “There are confirmed reports of 15 militants including foreigners killed in these airstrikes,” a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. A second strike targeted militants hiding in the Khyber tribal district who are suspected of bombing a cinema in Peshawar last week and killing an army major on Tuesday, a second security official said.

The twin strikes and spiralling violence cast further doubt on a troubled peace process between the government and the insurgents just three weeks after talks began. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taleban (TTP) had offered a ceasefire on Wednesday on condition that government forces stopped killing and arresting their members. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the start of talks on Jan 29 to “give peace another chance” following a sevenyear Taleban insurgency that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives. But a source in his office said Sharif, under pressure to avenge the Taleban killing spree, “issued orders to launch the airstrikes” after being briefed by military advisers. After several rounds of talks, government mediators pulled out of scheduled dialogue with their Taleban counterparts on Monday amid outrage over the claimed execution of 23 kidnapped soldiers.

On Sunday a faction of the Islamist movement from Mohmand near the Afghan border said they had killed the soldiers who were seized in the area in June 2010. Despite the new bloodshed, Professor Ibrahim Khan, a Taleban peace negotiator, said Thursday there was still a chance of a settlement. “The bad effects are very visible but even then we will continue our struggle for the establishment of peace,” he told AFP. “Negotiations are the only way.

There is no other way.” Meanwhile, Pakistan’s army on Wednesday said more than 100 soldiers had been killed by Taleban militants in the last five months, in a rare admission of mass casualties since the start of government efforts to engage the insurgents in peace talks. Requesting anonymity, security officials told Reuters that 308 civilians, 114 military personnel and 38 police officers had been killed since September 2013, around a time when Sharif convened an all-party conference that unanimously opted for peace talks.

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