The Pakistani army said Saturday it has killed 59 in raids on Taliban insurgents in the northwest of the county, including 32 in an ambush in a remote valley near the Afghan border. The latest offensive is part of an intensified campaign that has following a massacre of school children carried out this week by extremists.
The military ambush took place overnight in the northwestern Tirah valley in the Khyber agency, one of the main smuggling routes for arms and insurgents crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Security forces ambushed (the) moving group ... Fleeing terrorists left behind bodies of their accomplices," the military said in a statement.
There was no independent verification of the clash.
The military also said late on Thursday that 17 insurgents were killed in air strikes in Khyber and 10 in ground fighting.
The army has been bogged down in offensives against Pakistani Taliban insurgents in Khyber as well as the North Waziristan region, which also abuts the Afghan border. But the pace of operations has picked up since Pakistani Taliban attackers killed 131 school children, nine teachers and a soldier at a military-run high school in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday.
The assault was the deadliest insurgent attack in Pakistan’s history. Footage of terrified children and classrooms awash with blood has provoked a wave of revulsion in a country mostly inured to daily violence.
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have poured into the streets of major cities in protest, with many calling for reprisal against the country’s extremist factions.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are allied with but separate from the Afghan Taliban, said the school attack was revenge for the offensive against them and they accused the military of killing civilians in remote areas where journalists are forbidden to go.
Many Pakistani insurgents have sought refuge from the offensive over the border in lawless areas of Afghanistan. But they have come under attack there too, especially by missile-firing U.S. drones.
In the latest such attack, two insurgents were killed on Friday, just over the border from the Tirah valley, an Afghan official said.
Since the school attack, the government has promised that Pakistan would not discriminate between different insurgent factions, trying to draw a line under years of support for some groups seen as useful in Pakistan's confrontation with India and in achieving Pakistan's aims in Afghanistan.
The government has also announced that it would rescind an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty and execute six convicted “terrorists.”
The United Nations human rights office on Friday urged Pakistan to reconsider, saying the government should not “succumb to widespread calls for revenge.”