August 4, 2008 / 2:29 PM / in 9 years

Ninety-four militants, 14 troops killed in NW Pakistan

By Junaid Ali

MINGORA, Pakistan, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Pakistan’s army killed 94 Islamist militants and lost 14 soldiers in fighting in the northwestern Swat valley in the past week and plans a major operation against the insurgents, a senior officer said on Monday.

The ferocity of the clashes sounded the death knell for a peace deal between the government and militants seeking to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the alpine valley that was once one of Pakistan’s main tourist destinations.

"More troops are coming and we will launch a major operation and we will go after the militants in their strongholds," Brigadier Zia Bodla told journalists in Mingora, the main town in Swat.

Among the 14 soldiers killed were three members of the Inter-Services Intelligence, who were killed on July 28 in an ambush by fighters loyal to radical cleric called Fazlullah.

The Brigadier didn’t mention civilian or police casualties, but at least 25 civilians and eight policemen have also been killed since fighting flared last week.

Early last week the militants overran a checkpost, capturing up to 30 police and paramilitary troops.

Fazlullah launched a campaign of violence last year, drawing the army into a conflict at a time when militants across northwest Pakistan had launched a wave of suicide attacks on security forces and leading politicians.

Islamist sentiments boiled over after President Pervez Musharraf ordered a commando assault on Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush an armed Taliban-style movement.

The fighting in Swat reached a climax in November, but violence continued to dog the valley until a new provincial government in North West Frontier Province reached a peace accord in May.

Militants accuse the government of ignoring the terms and have vowed to fight until troops are withdrawn from the valley.

On Monday, militants torched four girls’ schools, a health office and a forestry office.

They have destroyed several girls schools and bridges in the recent days.

Violence that had subsided in Pakistan’s northwest following the February elections, has resurfaced in recent weeks after Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud suspended peace talks with the new civilian led government in Islamabad.

A remote-controlled bomb explosion struck a military convoy and wounded eight soldiers on Monday in South Waziristan, Mehsud’s stronghold.

Last month, the military killed at least 17 militants in an operation near the northwestern town of Hangu, after militants killed at least 15 soldiers and kidnapped nearly 50 troops and government officials to press for the release of jailed comrades.

(Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and David Fox)



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