Pakistan violence leaves 54 dead

November 10th, 2008 - 2:07 am ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Nov 10 (DPA) At least 54 people, including three soldiers, were killed in a suspected US airstrike and clashes between Islamist militants and government forces in northwest Pakistan, officials and media reports said Sunday.Jets belonging to NATO forces in Afghanistan bombed hills in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district, killing at least five people.

The attack took place in Morga area in the remote Tirah valley, located close to the volatile Afghan border Sunday.

“The airstrike killed at least five people from the Qambar Khel tribe, while four or five more were wounded,” an official in the area said on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region is considered a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion following terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.

International forces fighting the Taliban say fighters hiding in Pakistan’s tribal districts routinely launch cross-border attacks on their troops, and ask Islamabad to “do more” to stop these infiltration.

Pakistan has deployed around 120,000 troops along the treacherous frontier and regularly takes action against the Islamist insurgents.

Security forces killed at least 45 militants and lost three soldiers in overnight clashes in the conflict-ridden northwestern districts.

Up to a dozen insurgents were killed Sunday when Pakistani aircraft pounded militant hideouts in the restive Bajaur tribal district, which is located along Afghan border.

“Jets targeted the positions in Khar and Mamoond areas, killing at least 14 militants and leaving many more injured,” a security official said on condition of anonymity.

Successive explosions were reported from the bombed locations, suggesting ammunition caches were also hit, the official added.

The raids came a day after security forces killed 16 militants in attacks carried out by warplanes from the air force and helicopter gunships of the army.

Several compounds in the use of the rebels were also destroyed with artillery fire Saturday, English-language daily The News reported. Clouds of smoke could be seen billowing from the bombed villages, a local resident told the newspaper.

Government forces launched a major offensive in Bajaur in early August to clear the area of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

According to official data, more than 1,500 militants and 74 troops have so far been killed in the operation, which also caused numerous civilian casualties and displaced around 250,000 people.

Separately, Taliban fighters fired on the security forces in the Shangwatai area of Swat district in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) Saturday, triggering heavy fighting, The News cited a military spokesman as saying.

Ten attackers disguised as government troops were killed in the crossfire and a score of more injured, while three soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps lost their lives.

Five more Taliban died in the clashes that continued in several other parts of Swat, where the military is fighting the followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who is trying to enforce Taliban rule in the region.

A journalist was killed early Sunday when troops opened fire on him during curfew in Mingora, the main town of Swat, the Urdu-language Jang newspaper said in its internet edition.

Swat used to be a tourist haven until early 2007, drawing crowds of holidaymakers to the Buddhist archaeological sites and Pakistan’s only ski resort, which has now been destroyed by the Islamic insurgents. The mountain valley is also known for its trout streams.

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