Pakistani jets kill 26 Taliban in Orakzai

ORAKZAI, Pakistan Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:33am EDT

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ORAKZAI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani fighter planes bombed Taliban positions in the northwestern tribal region of Orakzai on Tuesday, killing 26 militants and destroying some of their hideouts, a government official said.

A semi-autonomous region, Orakzai is considered a militant stronghold of Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, widely believed to have been killed in a U.S. drone aircraft attack in January.

Homegrown Taliban militants are seeking to topple the U.S.-backed government of unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.

The government official in the region, Asghar Khan, told Reuters that aircraft carried out bombings in various parts of Orakzai.

He said 26 Taliban were killed in the bombing.

Pakistan's military has recently stepped up operations against militants in Orakzai. Security officials say forces killed about 100 militants in clashes last week, but there has been no independent verification of these figures.

Pakistani action against militants along its Afghan border is seen as crucial to U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, particularly as Washington sends more troops there to fight a raging Taliban insurgency before a gradual withdrawal starts in 2011.

The two allies pledged increased cooperation in tackling militants during two days of talks in Washington last week, with Washington promising to speed up overdue military payments.

(Reporting by Hassan Mehmood; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by David Fox)

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