Pakistan troops stormed militant positions and helicopters destroyed vehicles carrying insurgents near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing 28 suspected militants and forcing thousands of civilians to flee, officials said.

The offensive in the Orakzai tribal region is aimed at flushing out Pakistani Taliban insurgents who had fled an army onslaught further south. Government official Sami Ullah said at least 18 militants died in clashes with troops in Orakzai.

As a group of insurgents fled to the neighbouring Kurram region, helicopters hit three vehicles, killing 10 more militants and wounding some others, local military commander Lt. Col. Akbar Butt said.

Orakzai is a major base for supporters of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban’s top commander, who is believed to have died in a January U.S. missile strike near Afghanistan. The Taliban deny Mehsud is dead.

The militants have been fleeing to Orakzai and other parts of the northwest to avoid the army’s offensive in the South Waziristan tribal region, long a Pakistani Taliban stronghold.

Tens of thousands of Orakzai residents have fled the area over the past few months as the military has launched airstrikes and other operations there.

Over the past 10 days, at least 10,000 civilians have moved to a camp set up by the government in the Kohat area just outside the tribal belt, said Janzeb Khan, a government official. The government is providing food and other facilities to them, he said.

Orakzai usually has a population of 450,000 and borders the tribal regions of Khyber and Kurram.

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