August 15, 2009 / 7:12 AM / 8 years ago

Five killed in suicide blast in Pakistan's Swat

<p>Children sit atop luggage piled on a truck as they pass a hotel sign while returning to the Swat Valley, about 225 km (140 miles) northwest by road of Pakistan's capital Islamabad, July 15, 2009.Faisal Mahmood</p>

MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Pakistani security post in the Swat valley on Saturday killing five soldiers, while eight militants were killed in a clash, in the most serious violence in the area for weeks.

The military went on the offensive in the region northwest of the capital in late April and has killed or driven out many Taliban militants in what has been widely seen as a successful operation.

The army push has allayed fears among allies, in particular the United States and other countries with troops in neighboring Afghanistan, that nuclear-armed Pakistan was failing to get to grips with spreading Islamist violence.

The car-bomb attack in Khawazakhela, about 14 km (9 miles) north of Swat's main town of Mingora, raised concern that the Taliban could make a comeback, especially as no top insurgent leaders in the former tourist valley were killed or captured.

"The bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the post," said a senior military official in the region who declined to be identified. Five men were killed and four were wounded.

The attack came a day after hundreds of people, including many women, attended a music and dance show to celebrate Independence Day in the valley, where the Taliban had banned music and girls' education.

"We celebrated August 14 with great enthusiasm and it appeared as if it was all over," Mingora market vendor Akbar Hussain said of the violence. "Today has again brought fear that the Taliban could return."

In a separate incident, eight militants were killed in a clash that erupted as soldiers searched another area, the military said.

Pakistan's efforts to suppress militants on its side of the border are vital for a U.S.-led bid to stabilize Afghanistan, where Taliban have threatened to disrupt an August 20 presidential election.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, was due in Pakistan later on Saturday.


The offensive in Swat, 120 km (80 miles) from Islamabad, forced nearly 2 million people from their homes but many have been returning in recent weeks since the army said most militants had been cleared from the valley.

The military said it killed more than 1,800 Taliban in the offensive, but there has been no independent verification of that estimate. The Taliban denied suffering such heavy casualties and have vowed to fight in.

In late July, the Taliban issued a recorded message from their leader in Swat, Fazlullah, who said his struggle would continue until Islamic sharia was enforced in the valley.

Although Swat is not on the Afghan border, there were fears it was turning into a bastion for Islamist fighters intent on bringing down governments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond.

The military has also been attacking Taliban in several regions on the Afghan border including South Waziristan, a known haven for Taliban and al Qaeda.

In a major blow to the militants, Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistani Taliban and an al Qaeda cohort, was believed to have been killed in a missile strike by a CIA-operated drone in South Waziristan last week.

Pakistani and U.S. officials are almost certain that Mehsud, blamed for a wave of bomb attacks across Pakistan, including one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, has been killed though his aides insist he is alive.

Military aircraft attacked Mehsud's fighters in South Waziristan again on Saturday, intelligence officials in the region said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Additional reporting by Hafiz Wazir; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeremy Laurence

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