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Pakistani jets pound militant positions: officials

world Updated: Aug 27, 2009 16:55 IST

Pakistani jets and helicopter gunships pounded militant positions in South Waziristan on Wednesday, officials said, in a fresh assault on Taliban rebels in the lawless tribal belt.

The bombardment in the northwest region bordering Afghanistan comes after the death of Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud and as analysts urge Pakistan to exploit apparent rifts in the militant leadership.

The strikes hit about 40 kilometres (24 miles) east of South Waziristan's main town Wana, security and military officials said, with a handful of troops and militants killed in the bombing and clashes.

"This is basically a road clearance operation. Gunships and heavy artillery are taking part. Jet fighters also bombed their positions," a military official based in the main northwest city Peshawar told AFP.

A security official said paramilitary forces were clearing about 20 kilometres of road from South Waziristan to the neighbouring Dera Ismail Khan district to make it secure for paramilitary and military movement.

"We are facing some minor resistance, militants are firing rockets and using other weapons," the security official said.

The military official in Peshawar said: "Two paramilitary troops were martyred and seven injured during two days of operations. Several militants have been killed and an unknown number of them injured in the operation."

Pakistan in late April launched an offensive against the Taliban in northwest Swat valley and claims to have "eliminated" extremists there.

The government then vowed to take on the Taliban leadership entrenched in South Waziristan, but despite sporadic air assaults there has been no sign of a full-scale military offensive.

Pakistan's Taliban on Tuesday finally confirmed the death of their leader Baitullah Mehsud after a US drone missile strike on August 5.

They named young militant commander Hakimullah Mehsud his successor, and he swiftly vowed fresh attacks.