Peshawar, Pakistan -

The Pakistani military attacked Taliban hideouts in the lawless tribal north-west with fighter jets and ground forces on Thursday and killed at least 16 suspected militants, officials said.

It was the first time the military is known to have used air strikes against militants since the Pakistani Taliban announced a ceasefire on March 1 to help peace talks.

The Taliban said last week it was ending the ceasefire, complaining of little progress in negotiations with the government. A series of militant attacks since then have killed seven people in the north-west.

The airstrikes hit mountainous areas of the Khyber tribal district, where the Taliban and the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Islam are active.

“First jet fighters were used early in the morning and then ground troops were sent to the area,” a senior security official in Peshawar told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“They are conducting a search and cordon operation and up to now at least 16 militants have been killed.”

Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is feared for kidnappings and extortion in Khyber, one of seven tribal districts along the Afghan border.

Another security official said the strikes targeted militants involved in bomb attacks in the northwestern town of Charsadda and on a fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad which killed 24 people.

Officials said ground troops also used heavy weapons to pound militant targets.

Independent verification of the death toll was not possible, as journalists are not allowed to enter the area.

Pakistan began talks with the Taliban in February to try to end their seven-year insurgency, which has cost thousands of lives.

Government and Taliban negotiators met in Islamabad on Tuesday to plan a fresh round of talks and to try to persuade the militants to begin another ceasefire, a Taliban negotiator said.

Since the Taliban began their campaign of violence in 2007, more than 6 800 people have been killed in bomb and gun attacks around Pakistan, according to an AFP tally. - Sapa-AFP