ISLAMABAD - In third major aerial operation in as many days, at least nine terrorists from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan including a commander were reported dead in Hangu on Saturday as the security forces stretched the surgical strikes’ outreach from tribal agencies to the militancy-infected settled areas.

In a linked development, the Army denied the TTP’s accusation that the women and children of its commanders were under the custody of the security forces. “Not a single woman or child is in the custody of security forces. In fact, women and children have never been detained,” said ISPR DG Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa.

“This baseless accusation by TTP is a mere propaganda to divert the attention from real issue of their blatant and dastardly acts of terror across the country.” His words came against the backdrop of certain elements signifying the TTP stance on the alleged detention of the women and children for the last few days.

Earlier Saturday morning, Cobra gunship choppers of Army and Air Force launched a powerful aerial strike mission in Hangu that resulted in the reported elimination of nine TTP terrorists in two villages near Thall town. The military’s Army Aviation Corps (AAC) and PAF’s Northern Air Command (NAC) carried out the aerial strikes in Darsumand and Torawri villages, security sources said.

One TTP commander, identified as Noor Muhammad, was taken out in the operation, the officials claimed. The slain commander, the officials believed, had masterminded several terror attempts on the security forces in Fata including the deadly attack on Frontier Corps personnel in Bannu Cantonment last month that resulted in the loss of 22  men. The reconnaissance and surveillance for Hangu strike was purportedly carried out during early hours of Friday. No aerial sorties were administered Friday.

Hangu DPO Iftikhar Ahmad Khan confirmed to this correspondent that at least nine terrorists were killed in the security forces’ action. “There are reports that a TTP commander is among the dead but the name cannot be confirmed at this point.” He said the displacement of the locals from Hnagu to nearby Orakzai Agency and other adjoining areas was underway in the context of the security forces action. “The forces and district administration are facilitating the relocation of locals,” he said.

Following the army chief’s visit to Peshawar Friday, the sources informed the ground reinforcements comprising military troops and FC personnel were moved in the areas where aerial assaults were conducted. The security officials said the troops would not launch any immediate ground engagement (action) as the targets were being secured by the surgical hits. “The troops are moved for the provision of security cover to block the way of runway militants who are being targeted,” the officials stated. The surgical strikes are expected to continue over next few days before the ground troops start combing, combating and clearing the areas of the militants, the insiders informed. The aerial strikes would purportedly be stretched further to different parts of the Fata, including the Mohmand Agency.

 whose TTP leadership has claimed responsibility for the recent terror attempts, especially the slaughtering of 23 FC men reportedly in Afghanistan that were kidnapped in June 2010. The military, in reported coordination with the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the United States Central Command (Centcom) has lately enhanced border surveillance at the Western border to net the TTP commanders intending to flee to Afghanistan to avoid military operation.