US envoy lauds Pakistan for striking militants in Khyber district

A senior US official on Wednesday praised Pakistan for its ongoing operation against Islamic militants in the restive Khyber tribal district, where security forces arrested around two dozen rebels and destroyed their two centres, reported dpa.

"The operation around Peshawar is very welcome. People up there have had enough of the harassment by these groups," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher told reporters in Islamabad.

"People want a safer environment. It's good that FC (Frontier Corps) has started to establish safety," he added.

Paramilitary troops on Saturday launched a major offensive in Khyber district against Mangal Bagh and his heavily armed followers who were making inroads in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and trying to impose Taliban-style rule in parts of the city.

Later, two other militant groups in the area were also targeted.

Twenty-five suspected militants were arrested and a large amount of weapons seized in overnight actions on Wednesday, the fifth day of the operation. Eighteen insurgents were apprehended when they tried to resists security forces destroying two militant centres.

Seven, including a commander from Bagh's Lashkr-i-Islam group, were captured when they were heading towards Tirah Valley, where their comrades are fighting with the rival Ansar-ul-Islam organization, a security official said.

The security offensive in Pakistan's volatile tribal region, which has sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters launching cross-border raids on international forces in Afghanistan, is the first since the new government took over in March.

Initially, the government tried to tackle the problem of militancy through peace negotiations, raising concern in Washington which believes the peace deals could only provide opportunity to the rebels to regroup and strike with more force in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan.

Boucher said that his country approved Pakistan's talks only with the local tribesmen but not with Taliban.

"We don't support making concessions to violent leaders like Baitullah Mehsud.

We don't support releasing terrorists in the wild so that they can strike again. But we do support working with the tribes which are responsible for their own security and help stabilization in the region."

Baitullah Mehsud is the head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement Pakistan), an umbrella militant organization.

He is believed to have ordered dozens of suicide attacks, including the one which killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, across Pakistan.

Pakistani government has recently engaged him in informal peace talks under which he ordered a halt to the attacks on security forces.

But the contacts, never acknowledged officially by the authorities, were suspended early this week following Khyber district operation.

Boucher emphasized that coordinated efforts were required to deal with Taliban insurgents operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"We need to work with Pakistan so that we and the Afghan can take care of the problem on Afghan side and Pakistan army can take care of the problem on Pakistan side," he added.

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