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Scores of militants killed in Pakistani air strike

Latest update : 2008-08-29

The latest strike in weeks of pounding Islamic militant positions in northwestern Pakistan has left at least 22 people dead. Among the casualties were two senior commanders, a senior security source told AFP.

At least 22 militants, including two senior commanders, were killed late Friday in an air strike by Pakistan's military in the troubled northwest Swat valley, a senior security official told AFP.

Troops backed by helicopter gunships and heavy artillery have for weeks been pounding militant positions in the valley, a former tourist spot that erupted in violence last year when a pro-Taliban cleric declared jihad on Islamabad.

"Fighter jets struck the militants' hideouts in Peochar, killing 22," the security official said, naming the area where the strike hit.

A military spokesman in Swat told AFP that "a core of militants" had perished in the operation.

"Over 25 are dead, including two senior commanders," the spokesman said.

"Their command and communications structure has also been destroyed. This was their key area where they had set up ammunition depots, which were also demolished."

Maulana Fazlullah, a Taliban cleric, launched a violent campaign in 2007 to enforce harsh Islamic Sharia law in Swat.

"This strike was carried out after intelligence that top Taliban cleric Mullah Fazlullah was hiding there," the security official said, but he was unable to confirm if the main target was among the dead.

He did, however, say that two of the cleric's senior commanders had been killed.

Fazlullah is also known as Mullah Radio for using an illegal FM channel to propagate the Taliban's agenda.

Pakistan's chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas confirmed to AFP that several hideouts were destroyed in action on Friday and he was still collecting information.

Pakistan's northwest has been wracked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels fled there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

US forces say the border area is being used as a launching pad for attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's fragile coalition government, which pushed US ally Pervez Musharraf to resign as president on August 18 over impeachment threats, is under heavy international pressure to combat the rebels.

But violence linked to the country's role in the "war on terror" has killed nearly 1,200 people in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan in the past year.

Pakistan's fragile coalition government has been struggling to tackle the violence that has seen so many of its citizens killed in the past year.

The interior ministry on Monday announced it was banning Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main militant group behind the violence and which has threatened more suicide attacks.

The government said the group's bank accounts and assets would be frozen.

The TTP is headed by Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, based in the lawless South Waziristan tribal district, also bordering Afghanistan.

The previous government accused Mehsud of orchestrating the gun and suicide attack that killed former premier Benazir Bhutto last December, but he denied involvement.

The Islamic fundamentalist movement has been involved in a wave of suicide attacks targeting security installations to demand an end to an army offensive against militants near the Afghan border.

However, the military has pushed on with its offensive and for the past three weeks has been engaged in an operation in the Bajaur tribal area that has seen more than 500 people killed and 260,000 displaced.

Date created : 2008-08-29