Islamabad: At least nine soldiers and seven militants have died in fresh fighting in the restive Khyber tribal region of northwest Pakistan, taking the total number of security personnel killed during an operation against pro-Taliban rebels to nearly 40.
The latest casualties occurred during fighting in Sipah area of Khyber Agency on Thursday, the Dawn newspaper reported on Friday.
There was no official word on the operation launched last week by the Army against the Taliban and its ally, the Lashkar-e-Islam.
Security forces and members of Tawheed-ul-Islam, a pro-government militia, moved into Sipah and took control of two strongholds of the Lashkar-e-Islam after heavy fighting.
Two volunteers of Tawheed-ul-Islam were also killed in the fighting. Media reports have said 30 security personnel and over 100 militants were killed in earlier clashes.
However, military officials acknowledged the death of only 23 soldiers in fighting over the weekend.
Security forces, including members of the elite Special Services Group, have been engaged in fierce clashes with the militants ever since the army launched an operation against Taliban fighters who had sneaked into Khyber Agency from nearby tribal regions.
The militants have been using the region as a base to launch attacks in adjoining Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Media reports have said the Army sustained heavy casualties when the militants ambushed a group of Special Services Group commandoes.
Following the latest clashes yesterday, security forces arrested three militants of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam.
Sources told the Dawn that troops had taken control of Lashkar-e-Islam bunkers in Sipah and engaged militants in fighting in Karank and Spagnah areas.
The soldiers also destroyed a militant base after driving out the rebels.
Members of Tawheed-ul-Islam set on fire dozens of homes belonging to opponents after taking control of Sandana and Sheikhmal Khel areas.
Dozens of families began moving out of Sheen Drang and Sanzal Khel areas after security forces pounded the region with artillery.
Reports have said tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting in Khyber Agency, which is part of a key route used to transport NATO supplies to Afghanistan.