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Pakistani troops kill 22 militants in Khyber

Last Updated: Saturday, September 12, 2009 - 23:56

Jamrud: Pakistani helicopter gunships killed 22 militants and destroyed three of their hideouts on Saturday in attacks in the Khyber region on the Afghan border, paramilitary force officials said.

Troops also killed five militants and captured 18 during a search in the Swat valley, the military said.

The attacks came a day after the Army said it had captured five top Pakistani Taliban members in the Swat region, including their spokesman, Muslim Khan, dealing another blow to the Islamist militants fighting the government.

Taliban advances early this year and a string of attacks in cities raised fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan`s stability and alarmed its ally the United States, which even suggested the civilian government was "abdicating" to the militants.

But an offensive in Swat launched in late April and attacks on the Taliban in their Afghan border strongholds including South Waziristan have reassured the United States of Pakistan`s commitment to the fight against militancy.

Security forces launched an offensive in Khyber at the beginning of the month in an effort to clear out insurgents who have been attacking trucks in the Khyber Pass carrying supplies to Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Officials of the paramilitary Frontier Corps based in Khyber`s main town of Jamrud said helicopters had attacked in two places in the remote Tirah valley killing the 22 militants.

"Three places were targeted and 13 of their vehicles were also destroyed," a force spokesman said.

There was no independent verification of the militant casualty toll.

According to government figures, more than 150 militants have been killed in the 12 days since the military swung into action in Khyber, one of Pakistan`s seven semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions, days after a suicide bomber killed 22 border guards.

Separately, seven suspected al Qaeda-linked militants from the Maldives had been arrested in Pakistan, Dawn Television quoted Interior Minister Rehman Malik as saying.

Malik gave no details of the seven he described as "mercenaries," saying, "With the passage of time we will know who has recruited them, what is the purpose behind them."

Intermittent clashes in Swat

Pakistani action against militants on its side of the border is seen as vital to US efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, where Taliban violence is at its most intense since the overthrow of their government in 2001.

A surge in attacks on supply convoys passing through the area early this year forced the United States and other countries with forces in land-locked Afghanistan to look for other routes into the country, including through central Asian states.

The Army has cleared most militants from the former tourist valley of Swat, about 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, which the militants had turned into a bastion.

The Army says more than 2,000 militants have been killed in the Swat offensive, although no top commanders had been killed or captured, leading to fears they could regroup.

But the Army said on Friday Khan, the spokesman for the Taliban in Swat, and four other leaders had been captured near the valley`s main town of Mingora.

Their capture came just over a month after Baitullah Mehsud, the overall leader of an alliance of Pakistani Taliban factions, was killed in a missile attack by a US drone aircraft in his South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border.

Most of an estimated two million people who fled from Swat have returned although intermittent clashes are still erupting.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, September 12, 2009 - 23:56
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