Warplanes and ground forces have been deployed in a major offensive against the Pakistan Taliban, killing at least 77 fighters in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, authorities said Friday. The push comes just days after the extremists in the country murdered 148 people — most of them children — in a school massacre.
The attack against students in Pakistan's northwest on Tuesday prompted widespread demand for retribution against those held responsible. In the wake of the mass killing, the military has struck targets in the Khyber tribal region and approved the death penalty for six individuals convicted of terror attacks.
The country’s military said its ground forces killed 10 fighters late Thursday while airstrikes killed a further 17, including an Uzbek commander.
Another 32 alleged extremists were killed by security forces in an ambush in Tirah valley in Khyber on Friday as they headed toward the Afghan border, the military said.
And troops killed 18 more during a "cordon and search operation" in Khyber, the military said.
The military said the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, was traveling to Khyber Friday to meet with troops taking part in the ground operation.
Khyber agency is one of two main areas in the northwest where the military has been trying to root out Taliban fighters in recent months.
Khyber borders Peshawar, where the school massacre occurred, and militants have traditionally attacked the city before withdrawing to the tribal region where police can't chase them.
The other area is North Waziristan, where the military launched a massive operation in June.
In the southern province of Baluchistan, Pakistani security forces killed a senior Pakistani Taliban leader along with seven of his associates in three separate pre-dawn raids, said a tribal police officer, Ali Ahmed.
The Pakistani army chief late Thursday also signed the death warrants of six "hardcore terrorists" convicted by military courts, the army said.
It was unclear when the military planned to hang the six men, but Pakistani authorities generally move quickly once death warrants are signed. Such executions are usually carried out at prisons under the supervision of army officers and then the bodies are handed over to relatives for burial.
There was no information on the men or the crimes for which they were convicted.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that he would lift a moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases, apparently to satisfy critics who have accused the government of being unwilling to crush extremism.
On Thursday, however, a Pakistani prosecutor said the government will try to cancel the bail granted to the main suspect in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks — a decision that outraged neighboring India and called into question Pakistan's commitment to counter-terrorism.
Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi is one of seven people on trial in Pakistan for the assault, but the trial has produced no results so far. It has been closed to the media.