US airstrikes, Pakistan military kill 43 militants (Lead)

June 18th, 2009 - 8:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 18 (DPA) Missiles believed to have been fired by US Predator drones hit Taliban hideouts in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region near Afghanistan Thursday, killing at least nine Taliban militants, officials said.
The attack came as the Pakistan’s military claimed it had killed 34 militants and apprehended seven in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in the last 24 hours to Thursday evening.

The suspected US airstrikes targeted a militant training facility and a house near Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan tribal district, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

“According to our local sources, nine Taliban were killed in both strikes,” the official said. All those killed were members of militant group led by warlord Mullah Nazir.

The training centre was being run by Nazir’s commander Malang Wazir. It was not clear whether he was killed in the attacks.

Taliban militants cordoned off the two sites and started searching the rubble for survivors.

South Waziristan is the main stronghold of Pakistan’s top Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, and the rugged territory is also used by Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to launch deadly attacks on the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani armed forces are readying for a comprehensive operation in South Waziristan to take out Mehsud’s network.

Aerial raids were also carried out by Pakistani jets on Taliban facilities in the area last week after Mehsud’s group claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings that killed more than a dozen people, including an outspoken Islamic scholar.

Mehsud has repeatedly announced he would take revenge for US drone strikes and Pakistan’s ongoing offensive against Islamist insurgents in the northwestern Swat valley.

Separately, Pakistani forces clashed with rebels in Swat, where a major offensive was launched against Taliban around seven weeks ago, killing 12 “terrorists”. Five soldiers were also injured in the exchange of fire, a military statement said Thursday.

Sixteen more rebels died in the areas of Tutan Banda and Shamozai in Swat, which is located some 140 km from Islamabad.

Five suspected militants, including the head of a local Islamic seminary, were arrested and 15 rifles recovered during a clearance operation in Mingora, the main town in Swat.

In the neighbouring Upper Dir district, the troops claimed to have killed six insurgents while two more were captured.

The fighting in Swat and its three neighbouring districts has so far eliminated more than 1,450 Taliban, but it has also displaced some 2.5 million people.

Most of the uprooted people are staying with relatives, while only 20 percent are living in refugee camps.

The UN Thursday repeated its appeal for $543 million in aid for the displaced people saying that it had so far received only 31 percent of what was needed.

“We urgently need more funds to expand our outreach to help those staying in and outside of camps and those hosting them,” said Martin Mogwanja, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Pakistan, at a press conference in Islamabad.

The operation in Swat enjoys vast public support in Pakistan but the analysts have warned that it could vanish if the displaced people were not properly taken care of.

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