ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's government on Monday rallied support for a sustained assault on Pakistani Taliban fighters and other militants, as fighter jets bombed terrorist havens in North Waziristan and the army shifted manpower into major cities to help guard against retaliatory strikes.
The military operation is shaping up to be the nation's biggest campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in at least five years. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif authorized the move amid growing concern that Islamist militants pose an existential threat to the country.
"The army is fighting to protect the sovereignty of the motherland," Sharif said in an address to the National Assembly on Monday night.
For years, Pakistan's leaders have adopted a restrained approach toward the Pakistani Taliban, which has found refuge in lawless tribal areas in the northwest. But the recent attack on Karachi's international airport, which left at least 36 people dead and undermined the global image of Pakistan's largest and wealthiest city, triggered the more muscular response.
Sharif, who had been advocating peace talks with the Taliban, may also have been rattled by the Sunni rebels' rapid advance in northern Iraq last week, analysts say.
"Any operation or surgery is more effective when the patient is not in an emergency-like situation," said Shahid Latif, a military analyst and retired Pakistani air force commander. "If militants could become a huge problem in Iraq, they could be equally dangerous here, so it's better to eliminate them now before it's too late."
The military operation began Sunday with airstrikes killing 140 suspected terrorists in North Waziristan, including the alleged mastermind of the Karachi attack, officials said. Those strikes continued Monday, killing 27 suspected militants.
Tens of thousands of ground troops are moving into the area, and army snipers have taken up positions near the towns of Mirali and Miran Shah, officials said.