Hasham Ahmed / AFP / Getty Images

Tens of thousands flee Pakistan offensive

About 100,000 people are driven out of northwest where military operations are under way

Tens of thousands of people have fled a major military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in a tribal area in the country's northwest after authorities eased a curfew.

The military has deployed troops, tanks and jets in North Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, in a long-awaited crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban and other rebel fighters in the tribal area.

"Some 30,000 people arrived in Bannu from Mir Ali town of North Waziristan since this morning," Arshad Khan, director general of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Disaster Management Authority, told the AFP news agency.

Khan said 92,000 people have now fled North Waziristan since the military began air attacks against the Pakistani Taliban last month, adding that 130,000 more are expected to be displaced in the coming days.

Many streamed into the town carrying their possessions — quilts, buckets, mats, water coolers, even livestock and family pets.

Pakistani military says more than 100 fighters have been killed in the latest offensive.

The attacks began on Sunday in the wake of the deadly attack on the main airport in Karachi that left more than 30 people dead nearly two weeks ago.

The military eased a curfew in parts of North Waziristan to let civilians leave, indicating a new and more intense phase of the anti-rebel drive in which ground forces will play a greater role.

"Miranshah and Mir Ali have already been cordoned off. Ground troops will move in after civilians move to safe places," a military official said.

"First, ground troops will enter in major towns and will then move towards the suburban areas. We will then go to the villages and to the mountains."

He said the military operation would continue until every fighter had been eliminated.

Influx of people

Most have gone to the town of Bannu, just across the border from North Waziristan in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and a traditional haven for those fleeing violence in the tribal area.

Thousands have fled across the border into the Gorbaz district of Afghanistan's Khost province, according to local officials.

Registration points and camps have been set up to deal with the influx of people, but most prefer to travel on to stay with relatives in other areas.

Adding to the pressure on the rebels, two suspected US drone strikes hit compounds in the area early on Wednesday, killing at least five alleged fighters.

Attacks in the tribal area a week ago ended a nearly six-month pause in the controversial US campaign against fighters in Pakistan.

The Pakistan government has condemned the latest drone attacks.

"As has been made clear on earlier occasions also, Pakistan regards such strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Wire services

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