Pakistan military kills 15 militants in Bajaur fighting

September 14th, 2008 - 10:35 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Sep 14 (DPA) Pakistani troops killed more than 15 Islamist militants in clashes Sunday in the troubled north-western region bordering Afghanistan, officials said.Security forces backed by helicopter gunships, artillery and combat jets from the air force pounded mountain hideouts of militants as they continued their push into Bajaur tribal district, a known haven for elements of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and the Islamist extremist Taliban.

“At least 15 militants were killed and around two dozen wounded when we engaged them with rocket attacks and artillery fire,” a security official said on condition of anonymity.

Several militant positions were also destroyed in the villages of Loi Sam, Tang Khata and Rashakai in Bajaur, he added.

Government forces did not suffer any casualties in the fighting, according to the official.

Fighting in the area broke out in early August when dozens of rebels attacked troops stationed at a check post on a strategic hilltop in Loi Sam, an area previously used by militants to cross into Afghanistan to carry out raids on international forces.

Running battles have also triggered a humanitarian crisis as more than 250,000 Bajaur residents have fled to safer areas in neighbouring North West Frontier Province, where authorities are struggling with relief efforts.

A surge in attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan has intensified pressure on Pakistan to undertake all-out attacks on militant hideouts within their territory. US forces mounted a direct attack on militant forces within Pakistan for the first time Sep 3.

Islamabad has strongly condemned frequent violations of its airspace by US drones, with the Pakistani army chief saying that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost”.

Though Britain, a major US ally in the fight against terrorism, has not supported the ground raids outright, it says a new strategy was needed to check incursions by Taliban attacking foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s new civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari, Sunday arrived in London on a private visit during which he will also hold security talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, scheduled for Tuesday.

Zardari is expected to press Brown to lobby against unilateral US attacks in the Pakistani tribal region.

The British prime minister earlier this week said he and US President George W. Bush were scheduled to hold a video conference Thursday to discuss operations of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan.

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