Pakistan says Taliban leader in Swat surrounded (Lead)

September 14th, 2009 - 12:30 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, Sep 13 (DPA) The Taliban commander in the northwestern Swat valley had been surrounded and would soon be captured, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Sunday.
The statement came as 13 Islamist insurgents and three paramilitary soldiers died in two incidents of violence in the neighbouring tribal region that borders Afghanistan.

Maulana Fazlullah, supported by hundreds of fighters, rose in rebellion against the government in 2007 to enforce strict Taliban-like laws in Swat, a scenic mountain district 140 km from Islamabad.

Security forces launched a full-fledged air and ground operation against the militants in Swat and its nearby districts in late April, after they flouted a peace pact under which government agreed to impose Islamic Sharia rule in return for end to the insurgency.

The military says more than 2,000 fighters have been killed but the claim lacks independent confirmation.

“The back of anti-state and anti-Islam elements has been broken,” Malik told reporters in Islamabad after holding a meeting with tribal leaders from the country’s restive northwestern region bordering Afghanistan, where government forces are pursuing anti-Taliban offensives.

Malik said troops were closing in on Fazlullah, adding that “he can’t run”.

The minister’s remarks came two days after the military announced the capture of Fazullah’s spokesman Muslim Khan.

According to the army, Khan was arrested along with four other militants, including a senior leader, near Swat’s main town of Mingora.

Separately, a roadside bomb Sunday killed three soldiers in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal district, where a retaliatory operation by the security forces left three suspected militants dead.

The remote-controlled blast struck a vehicle carrying troops from the Frontier Corps paramilitary force as it passed through the Mandikas area close to the Afghan border.

“Two soldiers died at the scene whereas four others were wounded,” said Rahat Gul, an official in the local administration. One of the injured succumbed to his wounds in the hospital, he added.

Government forces cordoned off the area after the explosion and killed three militants in gunfights, the Urdu-language Geo News television channel reported.

Meanwhile, 10 Taliban fighters died and 20 were injured when helicopter gunships pounded militant positions in South Waziristan, another stronghold of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who died in a US drone attack early last month.

“The limited airstrikes were carried out in Ladha area,” said an intelligence official who further said that the ground troops demolished 10 houses of the suspected rebels.

Mehsud led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organization of more than a dozen extremist organisations, including Fazlullah’s group in Swat.

The TTP fighters have chosen Hakimullah Mehsud, a young Taliban commander who is from Baitullah’s Mehsud tribe, as their new chief.

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