Pakistani fighter jets pounded tribal areas near the Afghan border in an operation against Taliban militants on Tuesday, flattening several houses and sending villagers fleeing from their homes, military sources and local residents said.
Residents of North Waziristan, a lawless region where many al Qaeda-linked militants are based, said there were numerous civilian casualties but the army was not immediately available to comment on the nature of the operation.
The air strikes took place as domestic pressure grew on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher action against Taliban militants following a string of insurgent attacks against security forces across Pakistan in the past week.
An attack on a Pakistani army convoy on Sunday, in which 20 soldiers were killed, prompted Sharif to cancel his trip to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, and sparked speculation that a military operation was imminent.
"This hadn't been planned before, and Pakistan air force fighter jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces," said one military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The army was not immediately available for a comment. Tribal elder Malik Jan Mohammad in the Mir Ali area said 15 people were killed. A Taliban source put the death toll at 27, including civilians.
Military sources said fighter jets were targeting only militant hideouts. Residents said the bombardment started overnight without any warning.
"We were all asleep when the planes started bombing the village," said Khyal Zaman, a tribesman from Esori village in the Mir Ali area.
"We had no idea what happened in the dark and those who survived came out of their homes in desperation along with children and started walking away into the open."
Follow Emirates 24|7 on Google News.