Pakistan's military launched a ground assault in the North Waziristan tribal area yesterday, beginning a new phase in its offensive against Taliban militants, officials said.
Troops moved on Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, around 9:30 am (0430 GMT), officials said, after two weeks of air strikes and artillery bombardment of insurgent targets. Washington has long urged Islamabad to tackle militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan, a haven for Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
Security officials in Miranshah told AFP troops moved on the town after six hours of artillery shelling, which began at 3:30 am.
"They are using tanks and armoured vehicles for ground movement. The forces have also taken over the civil hospital in Miranshah and have destroyed four hideouts in the artillery firing,"a security official said on condition of anonymity.
Other security officials in Peshawar, the main city of northwest Pakistan, confirmed the advance.
A statement from the military's communications wing said the assault began "after the evacuation of all civil population", and infantry troops were carrying out house-to-house searches. Troops have killed 15 militants so far in the ground attack, the military said.
The conflict zone is off-limits to journalists at the moment, making it impossible to verify the number and identity of those killed.