Pakistani troops killed 20 militants in an ongoing offensive against supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric in the restive northwestern valley of Swat, officials said on Wednesday.
Troops pounded suspected hideouts in the valley's Puchaar and Loee Namal towns. The operation, which started overnight and continued till today morning, killed 20 militants, a security official said, requesting anonymity.
Provincial government spokesman Amjad Iqbal confirmed the attack, saying that troops "extensively engaged militant locations, which resulted in a number of militant casualties."
Earlier, 20 supporters of pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah -- who has been leading a campaign to impose Islamic sharia law in the region -- were killed and up to 15 hurt in an artillery barrage.
According to government reports, around 330 militants have been killed in the area in recent weeks during an army campaign to clear the scenic valley of militants. The military said Saturday that almost all had been forced out.
President Pervez Musharraf, who cited the growing militancy as one of the reasons for declaring emergency rule on November 3, ordered the army to clear Swat of rebels after they made sweeping gains.
In a separate incident troops shot dead one person and wounded two others for violating curfew restrictions in the troubled town of Fizaghat, residents said.
The valley remains under a dusk to dawn curfew since the troops launched the operation late last month.
Fazlullah, who is in hiding has called for a holy war against the Pakistan government.