PESHAWAR ~ Pakistan’s military said on Thursday troops had killed 66 militants in the last 24 hours, as an offensive against the Taliban spilled into a lawless tribal area and known Al Qaeda hideout.
In a daily update, the army said that “34 terrorists were killed while three were apprehended” in Bannu district on the fringes of Waziristan, where Washington alleges Islamist rebels are hiding out plotting attacks on the West.
In South Waziristan itself, 22 suspected rebels were killed when the army repulsed an attack, the statement said.
“Late last night about 400 terrorists attacked Siplatoi and Jandola Fort… three soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom) and five were injured, while 22 terrorists were killed and a large number injured,” the army said.
Troops are already locked in a more than six-week battle against Taliban fighters in three separate northwestern districts around Swat valley.
In Swat’s Taliban stronghold of Peochar, 10 suspected militants were killed in the past day, the army statement said, while operations also continued in Dir and Buner districts.
The military says it has killed more than 1,440 militants since the assault began on April 26, although the figures are impossible to verify.
Pakistan’s lawless tribal zones are a known bolthole for hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaeda rebels who fled across the border to escape the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Rumours have swirled that a full-scale military offensive will soon begin in semi-autonomous South Waziristan, although the army has denied an imminent campaign in the region bordering Afghanistan.
The campaign in and around Swat was launched under US pressure after Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under Syariah law in exchange for peace.
A surge in deadly militant attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks has raised fears that the Taliban are extracting revenge for the offensive.
In the latest incident, nine people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide blast at a luxury hotel in the northwest capital of Peshawar.