By Haji Mujtaba
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, June 15 (Reuters) - Pakistani fighter jets pounded suspected Taliban hideouts in the tribal North Waziristan region on Sunday in response to an audacious attack on the country's busiest airport a week ago, regional intelligence sources said.
Nearly 80 militants, mainly ethnic Uzbek fighters, have been killed in the latest air assault in the region bordering Afghanistan where some of Pakistan's most feared militants and al Qaeda commanders are based, sources said.
"Fighter jets targeted militant hideouts in the village of Dagan near the Pakistani-Afghan border," said one source in the regional capital of Miranshah.
"An important Uzbek commander, Abdul Rehman, has been killed in the air strike," he said, adding that Rehman was directly involved in masterminding the Karachi airport attack.
The account could not be independently verified as journalist movements are restricted in the region. The Taliban did not immediately comment on the air strikes.
The army could not be immediately reached for comment.
Uzbeks with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a militant outfit based in North Waziristan, claimed responsibility for last Sunday's commando-style attack on Karachi airport when a squad of highly trained militants raided the facility.
The all-night assault all but destroyed prospects of peace talks with the militants who are fighting to topple the government in the capital Islamabad and impose a strict Sharia-based theocracy in the nuclear-armed nation.
After the Karachi attack, in which 38 people were killed, U.S. drones conducted the first air strikes in Pakistan since the start of the year, hitting militant positions.
Pakistani air force jets have also been pounding militant hideouts and there has been increased speculation that the army is preparing for a major ground and air offensive in the region.
In anticipation of more violence, families have been fleeing North Waziristan into other parts of Pakistan as an atmosphere of fear has gripped the mountainous region.
Pakistani authorities also fear that militants themselves may be fleeing the area too, possibly into neighbouring Afghanistan, making it harder to kill or capture them.
Officials said a curfew had been imposed in the region and the army was setting up more checkpoints to improve security. (Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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