Pakistani forces face new front after gains in Swat (Lead)

May 31st, 2009 - 8:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 31 (DPA) Islamist militants stepped up their activities in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region near Afghanistan at the weekend, as a top government official said the military was close to wresting control of the Swat valley from the Taliban fighters.
Renewed fighting in South Waziristan, a known hub of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters and stronghold of Pakistani militant commander Baitullah Mehsud, gave credence to reports that the security forces are readying for taking on the militants in the tribal region.

The US, Pakistan’s key ally in the fight against terrorism, has been pushing the nuclear-armed Islamic country lately to eliminate militant sanctuaries along the border to turn the tide against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces fought pitched battles with the militants through Saturday night, killing at least 25 militants, while losing seven soldiers, including an officer.

Fifteen militants were killed when troops repelled a late-night attack on a checkpoint in the Spinkai Raghazai area of South Waziristan, the military said in a statement Sunday.

The clash also left three soldiers dead and six others wounded, while four more were missing.

Separately, Taliban insurgents ambushed a military convoy late Saturday, killing four soldiers.

The attack took place in the region’s Teyarza sub-district where the rebels had planted roadside bombs to target troops moving to an army fort.

Soldiers defused two bombs and were removing the third one when they came under intense fire by militants hiding in a compound. Troops returned fire, killing 10 militants.

Though the military said 25 militants died in overnight clashes, intelligence sources earlier put the casualty toll at 40.

The fresh violence in Waziristan came as Pakistan’s security forces battled remnants of Taliban fighters in the northwestern Swat Valley and its neighbouring districts of Buner and Lower Dir after the collapse of a controversial peace deal earlier this month.

The military said Sunday that troops were patrolling Swat’s main city Mingora after recapturing it at the weekend.

One soldier died after being hit by a bomb, which officials said had been planted by militants to inflict losses on the security forces and the residents fleeing the violence.

The security forces also killed two “miscreants” at a check post in Dir, according to the army.

Five weeks of fighting in Swat and its adjoining districts have so far killed 1,219 militants and 82 soldiers. There is no independent confirmation of the figures.

Nearly 2.5 million people have abandoned their homes since May 2, joining another 555,000 displaced last year.

The UN has warned of a prolonged humanitarian crisis and sought $543 million in international assistance to take care of the refugees.

Claiming steady gains in the Swat regions, authorities have expressed the hopes that the uprooted people would be able to return to their hometowns soon after the troops secured them.

“Only five to 10 percent (of the) job is remaining, and hopefully within next two to three days these pockets of resistance will be cleared,” Pakistan’s secretary of defence Syed Athar Ali said Sunday at a regional meeting in Singapore.

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