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26 Sep 2008 14:36
Pakistani forces have killed up to 1 000 Islamist militants in fighting in the strategically important north-western region of Bajaur this month, an army commander said on Friday.
Government forces launched an offensive in Bajaur in August and have been involved in heavy fighting since then.
Bajaur is one of Pakistan’s seven so-called tribal agencies, semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions along the Afghan border.
It is an important hub for militants, providing access to surrounding Pakistani regions as well as the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, said Major General Tariq Khan.
United States officials say Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked fighters use the tribal regions as an operating base to launch attacks inside Afghanistan, where Western forces are struggling to stem a growing insurgency.
“This is one area that if you are controlling can create a much greater effect on the entire region,” Khan told a group of reporters on a visit organised by the army.
Khan estimated 65% of the militant problem would be eliminated if they were defeated in Bajaur.
“If they lose here, they’ve lost almost everything.”
Pakistan has been under mounting pressure from the US to eliminate militant sanctuaries in its north-west.
The militants have also unleashed a bloody bombing campaign in Pakistani cities.
Khan said between 500 and 1 000 militants had been killed since the beginning of the month, while 62 soldiers had been killed and 112 wounded.
Among the dead militants were seven or eight Taliban commanders and a couple of known Egyptian militants, Khan said.
Also killed were two sons of the region’s top Taliban commander, Faqir Mohammad, who had also been wounded, Khan said.—Reuters
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