MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani artillery and helicopter gunships killed nine pro-Taliban militants in an assault on their hideouts in the restive northwestern Swat valley on Saturday, army officials said.
Security forces also arrested eight militants in the fighting that followed a search operation in the Kabal area, one of the militant strongholds in the region, 27 km (16 miles) east of Swat’s main town of Mingora.
“We have killed nine militants and the operation is still continuing,” an army official said while speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Residents said there were also civilian fatalities in the bombing, but the military said they were only targeting militants’ positions.
Nearly 160 people have been killed in the renewed fighting in Swat, which erupted into violence in November last year when militants led by a radical cleric called Fazlullah launched a campaign to enforce Taliban-style rule.
Renewed clashes broke out in late July when militants killed three intelligence officials and captured up to 30 police and paramilitary troops in an attack on a military checkpoint.
The latest fighting has virtually ended a peace deal agreed in May between the Islamists and a new government of the North West Frontier Province to stop violence in the alpine Swat valley, until recently a top tourist resort.
Militants accuse the government of violating the accord and
have attacked security posts and police and army patrols and have blown up dozens of girls’ schools.
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.
Security forces are separately battling militants in another northwestern tribal region, Bajaur on the Afghan border. About 170 people have been killed in the 10 days of fighting.