Pakistani troops on Sunday captured a strategic mountaintop in South Waziristan and pushed deeper into Taliban-held territory after consolidating their hold on areas around the hometown of Hakimullah Mehsud in Waziristan, where 15 rebels and a soldier were killed in fresh fighting.
A day after taking control of Kotkai, the hometown of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, troops secured the strategic mountaintop of Tarkona Narai and other important features in Sherwangi area after "intense engagements" that lasted 16 hours, the military said.
Security forces had been facing stiff resistance from the Taliban in and around Sherwangi over the past few days.
Troops cleared several hideouts and bunkers to secure the mountaintop at Tarkona Narai.
Four militants were killed on the mountain while eight more died when troops destroyed a vehicle that was fleeing the area, the military said.
A non-commissioned officer was killed and three soldiers were injured in the fighting. Three more terrorists were killed during a gun battle that erupted when troops were searching a compound southwest of Sherwangi.
Troops found a 12.7 mm anti-aircraft gun, rockets and mortars in the compound.
As troops advanced from Kotkai, they took control of important features to the north and west of the town.
The militants who had fled from Kotkai are targeting security forces with rockets, the military said.
The military has described the capture of Kotkai as a "very big success" in Operation Rah-e-Nijat, which was launched eight days ago to flush Taliban militants out of South Waziristan.
The military says over 185 militants and 24 soldiers have died so far in the fighting though the figures cannot be independently verified as journalists have no access to the conflict zone.
The army has mobilised two divisions or about 28,000 soldiers to take on an estimated 10,000 Taliban militants and foreign fighters in South Waziristan.
Troops also continued search and clearance operations in the northwestern Swat valley and other parts of Malakand division, where six suspects, including a would-be suicide bomber, were captured at different places.
Six militants also surrendered to security forces in Swat.
Meanwhile, Balochistan Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in the southwestern city of Quetta. He was on his way home after
attending a function when gunmen opened fire at his vehicle.Khan was killed instantly, while one of his relatives was seriously injured in the attack. The Baloch United Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the killing.