Pakistan clashes kill over 40 rebels, 2 soldiers

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – More than 40 Islamist militants and two soldiers have been killed in the latest fighting in Pakistan’s troubled northwest near the Afghan border, paramilitary force officials said on Tuesday.

Pakistani security forces in recent months have been locked in battles with militants in the Bajaur ethnic Pashtun tribal region as well as the nearby Swat Valley, a mountain valley once popular with tourists.

In an apparent reaction to the Pakistani offensives, militants have unleashed a wave of suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan, most in the northwest.

The Pashtun regions are havens for al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas and the United States has carried out a series of missile attacks as well as a ground assault on militant targets in Pakistan since the beginning of September.

In the latest fighting in the Swat Valley, at least 25 militants were killed in a clash with security forces in the Khawazakhela area on Monday, an official with the paramilitary Frontier Corps said.

Two soldiers were also killed and three wounded.

Security forces have been fighting loyalists of a pro-Taliban cleric, Mullah Fazlullah, who has led a violent campaign to impose Taliban-style laws in the region.

Security forces pounded a Fazlullah stronghold last week and killed several of his colleagues but he escaped unhurt.

In Bajaur, to the west of Swat and on the Afghan border, security forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 15 to 20 militants in attacks in the Charmang district on Monday, said another paramilitary force official.

The military launched an offensive in Bajaur in August and according to official estimates, well over 1,000 militants have been killed in the region, which the military describes as a militant “center of gravity.”

In the latest militant bomb attack, a suicide car bomber attacked a meeting in the Orakzai region on Friday as tribal leaders met to raise a force to fight the insurgents, killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 100.

The violence has added to worries about nuclear-armed Pakistan, as the civilian coalition government that took office this year struggles with a deteriorating economy.

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