ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s military said Tuesday its fresh airstrikes have killed at least 21 militants in the restive North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.
The action came as the death toll in Monday’s suicide bombing at a court compound in the northwestern town of Shabqadar rose to 17.
Army spokesman Lt-General Asim Bajwa says fighter aircraft conducted the overnight raids in the Shawal valley where ground troops “continue to hunt for fleeing terrorists through chase, cordon and search operations” after securing key heights and passes.
Officials say the counter-insurgency army operation has cleared around 90 percent of the Waziristan territory of insurgents, including foreigners, but has yet to fully secure Shawal and nearby areas.
A militant group, Jamatul Ahrar, affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the court bombing. It said the attack was meant to avenge last week's hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, a police bodyguard executed for killing a provincial governor over his call to reform the blasphemy law.
Qadri was part of the detail protecting governor Salman Taseer when he shot and killed him in 2011 in a busy market in the capital, Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban has been waging a violent insurgency against the state in a bid to dislodge what it condemns as an un-Islamic governance and security system in Pakistan.
The extremists have killed thousands of people in terrorist attacks. However, officials say the continuing army operations have destroyed militant strongholds, leading to an 80 percent decline in the violence.
Speaking in Islamabad Tuesday, visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised the improvement in the security situation in Pakistan.
“I salute Pakistan’s efforts in the fight against terrorism and domestic extremism… Too many people are still dying in acts of terrorism but the reduction in violence is much welcome and we never forget that Pakistan more than any other country in the world has been the victim of terrorist violence over many years,” said Hammond.