Pakistani fighter jets bombed militant hideouts in tribal areas near the Afghan border on Wednesday, officials said, capping two days of the fiercest fighting in weeks triggered by attacks by the Pakistani Taliban.
The attacks likely make exploratory peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) more unlikely than ever, with 78 Taliban and 10 Pakistani soldiers killed and scores more injured in the fighting.
The TTP, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban movement fighting Western forces in Afghanistan are entrenched in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas.
A series of military offensives have failed to break the group.
Wednesday's air strike was in response to a Taliban attack on a security post that killed 10 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 32 others, security officials said.
Pakistani jets bombed two militant positions in the Jogi area of the Kurram tribal region, killing 12 TTP militants and six Uzbeks.
The jets then hit more militant positions in the nearby Mamozai area in the Orakzai tribal region, killing 20 militants and two senior commanders, officials added.
Local TTP commanders Mullah Toofan and Maulvi Moinuddin's hideouts were targeted and destroyed, a local military official told Reuters, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. We have reports of 20 militants killed, including Moinuddin.
The death toll provided by the Pakistani military could not be independently verified and militants often dispute official accounts. A TTP spokesman said the two commanders were alive.
Some government officials and local tribesmen insisted the militants were killed by missiles fired from remotely piloted U.S. drones, but the Pakistani military denied this.
Our own fighter jets pounded four of their main training centers in Mamozai, a senior Pakistan army official in Orakzai said.
Pakistan's army and air force have been conducting operations against militants in Kurram since the beginning of the year. Fighting has been particularly intense in Jogi.
Exploratory peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP have made little progress. Previous peace deals have failed to improve security.
At least four soldiers and 30 militants were killed during clashes last week.
In southwestern Baluchistan province, 11 Pakistani Frontier Corps troops were killed when separatists from the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA) attacked three checkposts east of the city of Quetta.
The attack began early on Wednesday, with militants firing rocket propelled grenades at the posts, followed by gunfire, security officials said.
Baluch militants have been waging a low-level insurgency for decades, but their campaign intensified after the assassination of a tribal elder, Nawab Akbar Bugti, in a military operation in 2006 during the tenure of military President Pervez Musharraf.
The activists target government installations, security forces, gas pipelines, rail lines and electricity pylons as part of a drive to win more autonomy and control over the natural resources of Pakistan's biggest but poorest region.
Spokesmen for the BLA claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Qasim Nauman in ISLAMABAD and Gul Yusufzai in QUETTA; Writing by Chris Allbritton; Editing by Ron Popeski)