Islamabad: Pakistan’s army chief Monday took a fighter jet trip over the northwest region where troops are battling Taliban militants, and vowed to defend the nation “at all costs”, an official statement said.
General Ashfaq Kayani, joined by the air force chief, visited soldiers at an operating base before the trip on an F-16, a day after the government announced an expansion of their seven-week-long anti-Taliban assault.
Kayani said the ongoing offensive in and around Swat valley “was chosen as a last option after exercising various peaceful options,” and condemned Islamist extremism in Pakistan, a statement said.
“He said Pakistan is our motherland and we all are bound to defend it at all costs,” the air force said in a statement.
Air force chief Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman meanwhile said all armed forces were “fully determined to check the nefarious designs of those elements who challenged the writ of the state.”
Pakistani ground and air forces are battling against the Taliban in the scenic mountainous district to dislodge armed fighters who advanced within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital Islamabad in early April.
On Sunday, northwest provincial governor Owais Ahmad Ghani announced that the offensive was expanding to the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, vowing to track down feared Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
The army has so far stayed silent on any new offensive and Kayani made no mention of a new front in the campaign.
The statement also said that 126 members of the security forces had died since the offensive began in late April, while 50 were wounded.
Pakistan’s military claims to have killed about 1,440 insurgents since the start of the current campaign, although their tolls are impossible to verify.