Pakistani security forces have killed 22 Taliban in the country's restive northwest, the military said on Wednesday as its operations against the militants entered their 52nd day.
"During the last 24 hours (till Wednesday afternoon), 22 terrorists were killed and 17 were apprehended, while one soldier was injured in Malakand," an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said.
It also said that the return of some of the millions of civilians who had been displaced by the fighting in three districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was proceeding well.
"Move back of IDPs (internally displaced persons) to Kalam (in Swat) is progressing well. On Wednesday, 12 families comprising 69 members reached Besham Camp for further move to Kalam. Earlier, 300 families were transported back from Besham to Kalam in the last two days" the statement said.
On a tip off by locals, Qari Junaid, an "important commander" of Swat's Madiyan area, and his accomplice Naeem "hiding in a house have been killed", the statement said.
Detailing the relief activities, the statement said that so far, 1,325 tonnes of army rations and 975 tonnes relief goods had been distributed amongst the refugees.
The Pakistani military began its operations on April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.
The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah. They later spread to Buner and Lower Dir.
The military says it has largely secured Buner and Lower Dir districts and is now engaged in mopping up operations in Swat.
To go by military figures, close to 1,500 Taliban have been killed in the fighting. There is, however, no independent confirmation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone.
Some three million civilians have been displaced from the three districts by the military operations.
The military is now planning to move against Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, whose writ runs over much of the volatile South Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan.
"The government has taken a principled decision to launch a military operation against Baitullah Mehsud and his network," an ISPR statement on Tuesday said.
"Necessary steps/measures are being taken by the military in this regard," the statement said.
Mehsud heads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella group of various Taliban groups operating in the country.
He is also accused of having a hand in the on Dec 27, 2007, gun and bomb attack that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she left a political rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi adjacent to Islamabad.
On Sunday, NWFP Governor Owais Ghani said the Pakistani military would train its guns on Mehsud once its anti-Taliban operations in three districts of the NWFP are concluded.
"The army has been ordered to launch a crackdown against militants in FATA," he said. "The details and the strategy of operation will be decided by the army."