, PESHAWAR, Jul 22 – Pakistani troops backed by fighter jets killed more than 30 suspected Taliban militants around the Swat valley and northwest tribal belt on the Afghan border, officials said Wednesday.
The high number of casualties, which are impossible to confirm, is the latest in a surge of deadly clashes reported since Pakistani commanders said they had effectively defeated Taliban opposition in parts of the northwest.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said earlier this month that the military had "eliminated" extremists, but deadly skirmishes have continued in Swat where the Taliban focused a two-year rebellion, neighbouring Buner and Dir.
The military announced Wednesday that 16 "terrorists" were killed and three terror training centres destroyed over the last 24 hours in Dir, just to the north of Swat where the military offensive was launched in late April.
In Swat and Buner, where the government has bussed back thousands of 1.9 million civilians who were displaced by the fighting, the military said 11 "terrorists" were killed and two soldiers wounded.
The army launched the offensive after armed Taliban fighters advanced from Swat into Buner, further south towards the capital Islamabad, after Washington branded the militants an existential threat to the nuclear-armed country.
Pakistan says around 1,800 militants and more than 163 security personnel have been killed, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.
Late Tuesday, jets pounded suspected bases of wanted Pakistan Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, killing four of his militants in the northwest near the Afghan border, an official said.
The United States branded Mehsud a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in the tribal areas and put a five-million-dollar bounty on his head.
Islamabad blames him for a wave of deadly suicide attacks across Pakistan in the last two years and the previous government accused him of masterminding the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.
The aircraft bombed a militant base and Taliban compound in the Sarwakai area of South Waziristan, a rugged tribal area that borders Afghanistan.
"Both were destroyed and a total of four militants were killed," a military official said, requesting anonymity, adding that the dead men belonged to Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban group.
A government official confirmed the raids in Sarwakai, controlled by Pakistan’s feared Taliban chief Mehsud, but gave no casualty figures.
Although Pakistani commanders say air strikes in South Waziristan are in preparation for a ground offensive against Mehsud, there has been little sign of an imminent new front on terrain well suited to guerrilla warfare.