By Haji Mujtaba
BANNU, Pakistan (Reuters) - Military air strikes killed at least 25 suspected militants in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, two intelligence officials said, taking to 133 the army's toll of insurgents in the region this week.
Since May, the military has stepped up operations in the deeply forested ravines of the Shawal valley, which straddles the Pakistani region of North and South Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan, and is dotted with militant bases.
Residents have reported continuous bombing since Sunday, when a provincial minister was among the 19 people killed by a suicide bomber in Punjab province, the stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
"Jet air bombing destroyed five militant hideouts and killed 25 militants," said one of the two officials who confirmed the death toll.
Access to the area is severely restricted and few telephone lines work, making it impossible to verify the military's casualty figures.
The army was battling the militants in different parts of Shawal Valley, a third intelligence official said.
"We can hear bombs and constant shelling since Sunday, but we have not been instructed to leave the area," farmer Shadam Khan told Reuters.
"We just want them to specify a route for us to safely leave with our families before the army starts a full-fledged operation."
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for one Taliban faction, said air strikes had not killed any militants. The mountainous North Waziristan region used to be the Pakistani Taliban's last key stronghold.
The Pakistani Taliban mainly fight the Pakistani state. They are separate from, but allied to, the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistani military recaptured most of North Waziristan in an offensive launched in June 2014. Before the operation began, the army ordered most civilians to leave. Those in the Shawal Valley were permitted to stay.
NATO forces had long urged Pakistan to mount an offensive in North Waziristan, saying Taliban safe havens there were used to attack NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
The army's media wing said air strikes killed 18 suspected militants on Tuesday, 50 on Monday and 40 on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN and Asad Hashim in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)