, PESHAWAR, Jul 26 – Pakistani fighter jets pounded militant positions, killing at least 13 rebels and destroying their hideouts in the restive northwest, security officials said Sunday.
The bombardment took place on late Saturday in Lower Dir town, where troops have been carrying out search and clearance operation to hunt down militants.
"At least 13 militants were killed and 15 of their hideouts destroyed in the bombing carried out by fighter jets in Lower Dir," a security official in the area told AFP.
A local government official confirmed the incident and the militant casualties, saying the death toll might rise as intelligence intercepts revealed that there were some 140 militants holed up in the area.
The Pakistani army launched the offensive to dislodge Taliban guerrillas from the three districts of Lower Dir, Buner and Swat in late April and early May after rebels flouted a peace deal and thrust towards the capital Islamabad.
The offensive has the backing of the United States and enjoys broad popular support among Pakistanis exasperated by worsening Taliban-linked attacks, which have killed nearly 2,000 people in the nuclear-armed country since July 2007.
Meanwhile the military continued its search and clearance operation in Swat, Dir and Buner to track down militants.
"A local Taliban commander was killed and nine other terrorists were arrested in Swat during the last 24 hours," it said in a statement.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said earlier this month the military had "eliminated" extremists and government statistics show that 385,000 of 1.9 million civilians who were displaced by the fighting have returned.
But skirmishes have continued, raising fears that the Taliban escaped into the mountains and will return, a tactic militants adopted after similar military offensives in the past.
Pakistan says more than 1,800 militants and 166 security personnel have been killed since April but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.