36 militants, six soldiers killed in Pakistan

Updated on Sep 12, 2008 01:18 AM IST

At least 36 militants and six soldiers were killed in two separate clashes in northwest Pakistan, an army spokesman said.

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None | ByDPA, Islamabad

At least 36 militants and six soldiers were killed on Wednesday in two separate clashes in northwest Pakistan, an army spokesman said.

The first fighting took place in the Rashkai area of Bajaur district in the country's lawless tribal region as thousands of troops, backed by helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, launched a major offensive to take control of the Taliban's command and control system.

"We cleared the area of the insurgents and have complete control over it," army spokesman Major Murad Khan told DPA.

"At least 25 militants were killed and many injured, while 25 more were captured." Six soldiers also died in the action.

A large quantity of ammunition and improvised explosive devices were seized in the operation, he added.

Pakistani troops have been fighting the Taliban since Aug 6 in Bajaur district, from where the rebels target US-led international forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Around 600 militants have been killed in the action, according to official figures. The operation was halted on Sep 1 after lawmakers from the tribal belt threatened to withdraw their support for Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential elections.

However, it was resumed Sep 6, the same day Zardari won the presidential vote.

The operation has triggered a mass exodus from Bajaur to safer areas in the adjoining North West Frontier Province.

Islamabad is under growing pressure to crack down on militants entrenched in its tribal areas.

Concerned over the country's inability to eliminate the militants' hideouts, the US forces deployed in Afghanistan have carried out several missile attacks and at least one ground attack in Pakistan's tribal districts.

Separately, security forces killed at least 11 Islamic militants in the troubled Swat district of neighbouring North West Frontier Province.

"Our troops targeted insurgents' positions with artillery fire in Kuza Bandai area of the district this morning," Major Murad told DPA.

Security forces cordoned off the area and were trying to clear out pockets of resistance, he added.

The clashes in Swat started in October when the government dispatched troops to quell the rebellion of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and thousands of his followers who launched a campaign to enforce Taliban rule in the area.

The government's action triggered months of fighting which killed hundreds.

Pakistan's new civilian government started peace talks with the Swat militants in March immediately after it took office. But that did not stop the violence and the government resumed its military offensives in early July.

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