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Pak army kills 90 militants in anti-Taliban offensive

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
June 11, 2009 12:52 IST
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Over 90 militants were killed in raging battles in Pakistan's lawless northwest, as security forces on Wednesday pounded Taliban positions, to provide crucial back-up to a tribal militia taking on the insurgents. The military said troops had engaged militant positions at Janikhel in Bannu district with heavy fire and a 'clearance operation' was underway in Zaidi Akbar Khan area.

There was no official word on the exact number of casualties in fighting in this region though Geo News channel said over 70 militants were killed in operations at Bakakhel and Janikhel areas of Bannu, which borders the restive Waziristan tribal agency. Another 23 militants and two soldiers were killed in Malakand and Dir during the past 24 hours, the military said. Twelve soldiers, including two officers, were also injured.

The military described Janikhel as the "staging area of all militants operating in Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat and Peshawar". It said between 600 and 800 militants had entered Janikhel from Miranshah and Razmak in North Waziristan tribal region, a stronghold of the Taliban.

These militants planned to strike at different places in the North West Frontier Province, the military said. Security forces patrolled Bannu city on Wednesday while militant strongholds were shelled by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery.

In Swat valley, a soldier was killed and 11 others, including two officers, were injured when militants fired a rocket at Kabbal Camp. Another soldier was killed when militants carried out a raid at Bariam bridge near Matta, a former Taliban stronghold. Security forces killed a terrorist during a search operation at Batkhela. They also recovered a cache of arms, ammunition, explosives and communication equipment.

Six militants were killed when troops repulsed a raid by the Taliban at Banmani Sar. Troops also secured Shalkosar Top and Shalkosar Kandao in Peochar valley, where Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah is believed to be hiding.

Sixteen militants were killed in a fierce fight with security forces southeast of Shalkosar Top, the military said. Security forces secured Gat Khela and Jowar areas in Buner district today. In nearby Dir district, a 'lashkar' or tribal militia continued its drive against Taliban militants, who are hiding in Shatkas and Ghazigae villages.

The military said an intense exchange of fire was taking place between the lashkar and the militants. Fifty Taliban militants from Dir and Kohistan, who came to support the militants in Shatkas, were driven away by the lashkar. Officials in the area have said the army's helicopter gunships and artillery units are backing the lashkar, which was formed after militants carried out a suicide attack on a mosque in Dir last week.

Also in Dir, militants demolished two government-run schools and a bridge. The army also continued its efforts to provide relief to the more than 2.5 million people displaced by the fighting in Swat and nearby areas. A team of 31 paramedics, including eight specialist doctors, was moved to Mingora, the main city in Swat, by helicopter.

Four trucks of rations and relief goods were distributed among the people of Mingora, the military said. The army claims that over 1,300 militants have been killed since the drive against the Taliban in Buner, Dir and Swat was launched in May. Over 100 army personnel have also died in the offensive.

The military offensive, which was undertaken at the prodding of the United States, has sparked retaliatory attacks by the Taliban in various parts of Pakistan, the latest being the suicide bombing of a luxury hotel in Peshawar on Tuesday.

The death toll in the bombing rose to 17 with the recovery of six more bodies from the rubble of the devastated building, even as a provincial minister said such retaliatory attacks in the future cannot be ruled out.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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