ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, killed 26 Islamist fighters in Mohmand tribal region on Saturday, a paramilitary official with knowledge of the operation said.
Many militants fled to Mohmand after being driven out of Bajaur, a neighboring tribal region where security forces had mounted an offensive more than six months ago.
Security forces pounded militant positions on Saturday after they came under fire during a search operation in Mohmand’s Saapri area.
“Twenty-six militants were killed and many were wounded,” the paramilitary official said.
There was no independent confirmation.
Security analysts have said a suicide attack on mosque that killed at least 37 people in the neighboring Khyber tribal region on Friday might have been carried out in retaliation for the operation in Mohmand province.
The Pakistan army has fought to contain an Islamist militant insurgency that has spread across the northwest during the past two years.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that al Qaeda and Taliban militants had to be rooted out from Pakistani tribal lands as part of a new strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, and reduce the threat of an al Qaeda attack in the West.
Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; editing by Myra MacDonald