MINGORA: Troops killed 15 militants in fresh clashes in Swat, the army said on Tuesday, taking the death toll to 45 in five days after a lull in the campaign to clear the Taliban out of the northwestern valley.
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 says it has killed over 2,000 militants, and lost 312 soldiers 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 they can still hit back.
‘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 on Monday evening.
The army had already killed at least 30 insurgents in encounters since Friday, while 12 police recruits were killed by a suicide bomber on Sunday.
Show of force
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.
‘It’s an assault against terrorists, anti-social and anti-state elements and it will continue until the region is cleared of them,’ the top government officer, Tariq Hayat Khan, told Reuters.
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 August 27 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.
Security officials have been expecting Hakimullah’s fighters to mount more reprisals following the killing of Baitullah.