Pakistan: Troops kill 15 militants in northern clashes
Pakistani troops killed 15 militants in fresh clashes in the northwestern Swat region, the army said on Tuesday. Officials said the death toll had risen to 45 in five days after a lull in the campaign to clear the Taliban from the valley, AKI reported.
Security forces also launched an operation to flush out militants in the northwestern tribal region of Khyber, bordering Afghanistan, a government official said.
The army went on the offensive in Swat in late April and claims to have killed over 2,000 militants, while 312 soldiers have died in the fighting. Independent casualty estimates are unavailable.
Despite the Taliban's losses, the recent clashes and a suicide attack in Swat's main town of Mingora on Sunday showed their continuing strength.
"It was very precise and we managed to kill 15 militants," Lt. Col. Akhtar Abbas, a military spokesman in Swat, said of the attack launched late Monday.
The army had already killed at least 30 insurgents in encounters since Friday, while 16 police recruits were killed by a suicide bomber on Sunday. Senior police have since admitted the attack occurred due to a serious security lapse.
Meanwhile, 50 militants reportedly surrendered in the Kanju area of tehsil Kabal and a local curfew was relaxed in Mingora and other areas.
Pakistan's show of force in Swat had allayed fears among allies, in particular the United States and other countries with troops in neighbouring Afghanistan that the nuclear-armed country was failing to confront spreading militancy.
In Khyber, forces killed five militants and destroyed three militant bases in the latest offensive.
Troops used artillery to attack militant positions while residents said helicopter gunships flew over the area but did not take part in the operation.
The offensive in Khyber came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed 22 Pakistani border guards in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan.
The 27 August attack on Khyber was the first major operation since Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike in early August.
Hakimullah Mehsud, who led militants in the Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions, has been chosen as the new overall commander of the Pakistani Taliban.