42 militants die in anti-Taliban assault: Pakistan
Islamabad: Pakistan`s army says 42 militants have been killed in the latest stage of its offensive against the Taliban close to the Afghan border.
A statement Tuesday says that troops were making steady progress in the 11-day old campaign in South Waziristan.
The fight is seen as a major test of Pakistan`s will and ability to tackle Islamist extremist sanctuaries in its northwest.
Earlier gunmen attacked a high-ranking Pakistani army officer as he drove through the capital Tuesday in the second targeted shooting against top military brass in Islamabad in less than a week, authorities said.
The officer and his mother, who was riding with him, escaped unhurt from the assault, part of a wave of violence sweeping Pakistan in apparent retaliation for an army offensive against the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan close to the Afghan border.
The brigadier, equivalent to a brigadier general in the US army, was driving to a bank in a residential area early Tuesday when the gunmen attacked.
Muhammad Imran, who runs a business nearby, said he saw a young man take out a weapon from beneath his shawl and unleash a hail of bullets as the car slowed down for a speed bump.
"He was firing relentlessly. He was targeting the front seat of the car," Imran said.
Another young man on a motorcycle then appeared and the two sped away, Imran said.
Senior police officer Bin Yamin said the army officer, who was not identified, was not in uniform but was driving a government car. Such vehicles have official license plates that bear an army insignia.
"It appears to be a targeted attack, but we are investigating further," Yamin said.
Last Thursday, gunmen on a motorcycle fired on an army jeep in another part of Islamabad, killing a brigadier and a soldier in what was believed to be the first assassination of an army officer in the capital.
The army moved into South Waziristan more than a week ago vowing to crush the Pakistani Taliban, a militant network it says is behind 80 percent of the suicide bombings in Pakistan.
An army statement Monday said soldiers were progressing on three fronts in South Waziristan, but were meeting resistance on all of them. It said that over the previous 24 hours, 19 militants and six soldiers were killed.
Independent verification of army claims is very difficult because the military has blocked access to the region.
Militant attacks in Pakistan have surged this month, killing more than 200 people, as the Taliban have tried to avert the offensive.
The army has deployed some 30,000 troops to South Waziristan to take on an estimated 12,000 militants, including up to 1,500 foreign fighters, among them Uzbeks and Arabs. The UN says some 155,000 civilians have fled the region.
Meanwhile, authorities announced the arrest of the alleged mastermind behind two recent bombings in the main northwest city of Peshawar. Top police official Malik Naveed Khan did not identify the suspect nor say when the arrest happened. The attacks this month killed 49 people in a market area and wounded several in a recreational facility elsewhere in the city.
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