PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces backed by aircraft killed 38 Taliban insurgents on Tuesday in an offensive in the Mohmand region on the Afghan border, government and paramilitary officials said.
Pakistan is struggling to stem Islamist militant influence and violence in the northwest as it keeps a wary eye on its eastern border with India after militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai led to a spike in tension between the neighbors.
The fighting came as U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus arrived in Pakistan for talks with government and military leaders.
“The operation has been successful. Their power has been reduced, we’re facing less resistance,” a senior government official in the region, Shahidullah Khan, told Reuters by telephone.
Khan and the paramilitary Mohmand Rifles force said 38 militants had been killed on Tuesday. The force said 22 militants had been killed in fighting on Monday.
Khan said there had been no casualties on the government side. There was no independent verification of the government’s casualty figures.
Security forces have recently stepped up their operations in Mohmand, which is to the north of the city of Peshawar, to fight al Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing a military offensive in the Bajaur region, to the north.
The United States and Afghanistan have for years urged Pakistan to eliminate militant bases in lawless ethnic Pashtun tribal regions on the border from where the Taliban infiltrate into Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces.
The paramilitary force said two militant strongholds had been destroyed and another two were being attacked. Several Taliban commanders had been killed, it said in a release.
A spokesman for the force said earlier the assault was focused on five border villages controlled by militants.
Villagers said the soldiers were also using tanks and artillery in the fighting and at least 12 civilians had been wounded in air strikes.
Last week, more than 600 militants, many from Afghanistan, attacked a military camp and two checkpoints in Mohmand and six soldiers and 40 militants were killed, the military said.
Intensified Pakistani efforts against the militants have led to what some officials call reverse infiltration, with some Taliban coming back into Pakistan to protect their rear bases.
Petraeus met President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani for talks on regional security, a spokesman for the president said.
Separately, Taliban militants released a senior government official in the South Waziristan region, on the Afghan border to the southwest of Mohmand, after more than a week in captivity, a government official said.
Taliban militants also shot dead six people and dumped their bodies by a road in the North Waziristan region after accusing them of being U.S. spies, residents and intelligence officials said.
A note left with the bodies said they were a “gift for Obama, Karzai and Zardari,” referring to the U.S. president-elect and the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. North Waziristan is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Additional reporting by Hafiz Wazir; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel