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Pakistan: Airstrikes kill 42 Taliban militants

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
Last updated on: July 11, 2009 02:03 IST
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At least 42 Taliban terrorists were killed in airstrikes by fighter jets and ground clashes in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, where a deadly ambush by militants at a check-post on Friday claimed the lives of four security personnel.

Jets and helicopter gunships pounded positions of Taliban insurgents who had taken over homes of the minority Sikh community in the restive Orakzai tribal region, killing 39 militants, including a senior commander.

Reports said 14 militant camps were destroyed during the air strikes in Chapri Ferozekhel and Ghiljo areas of Orakzai.

Militants affiliated with insurgent commander Tariq Afridi and Hakimullah Mehsud, a close aide of Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, had occupied several homes of Sikhs who fled the troubled region after failing to pay jiziya or a tax on non-Muslims levied by the Taliban.

In Khar, the headquarters of troubled Bajaur agency near the Afghan border, some 20 to 25 militants attacked a checkpost, killing four personnel of the Levies or a local militia, who were manning it. No group claimed responsibility for the incident though the Taliban are usually blamed for such attacks.

The Pakistan army has said Bajaur has been cleared of the Taliban but the latest attack suggests they are still active in the area.

In the restive Swat valley, troops conducted search and  clearance operations ahead of the return of about two million people displaced by the campaign against the Taliban.

A militant was killed and 26 others were apprehended by security forces during an operation at Badar and Sar Colony in Swat.

The troops also destroyed seven tunnels, eight hideouts and a militant training centre.

Two militants were killed in Malam Jabba in Swat. A militant base was destroyed and a few insurgents were killed and wounded at Kuz Darmal near Lower Dir district during the past 24 hours, the military said in a statement.

Security forces and government relief agencies are preparing for the phased return of some two million people who were displaced by the military operations against the Taliban in Swat and nearby areas.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced on Thursday that the displaced people would begin returning to their homes from July 13 as the objectives of the military operation had been "achieved."

President Asif Ali Zardari told visiting United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes that Pakistan would require "massive support and assistance" from the world community for rehabilitating the displaced people and reconstructing the militancy-affected areas.

The army is gearing up to ferry the people to their homes. Troops are consolidating their hold on areas cleared of militants and securing key roads in Swat and nearby districts.

The military said on Friday that it had distributed 1,200 tonnes of rations and other items among the displaced people of Malakand division, which includes Swat.

Another 150 tonnes of rations have been placed at Malakand Fort, Chakdara and Mingora, the main city in Swat, as part of a repatriation package.

The army claims it has killed about 1,700 militants in the operations against the Taliban, which were launched two months ago after the militants violated a cease-fire and began advancing into areas close to capital Islamabad.

The figure cannot be independently verified as reporting from the conflict zone is strictly controlled by the military.

About 160 security personnel have also died in the campaign.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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