Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships and jets killed 54 alleged militants in a region near the Afghan border where the military has repeatedly tried to flush out the Taliban, a government official said Friday. Three troops also died in the clashes.
The fighting in the Mohmand tribal region on Thursday underscored the difficulty Pakistan has in keeping territories clear of militants after initial operations, an area the United States has pointed to as a weakness in its counter-insurgency efforts.
Pakistani troops were doing routine patrolling in the Paizai area of Mohmand when they came under attack, said Maqsood Hasan, a deputy administrator in the region. The troops returned fire and killed 10 insurgents, but also called for backup in the air, Hasan said.
The army sent helicopters and jets to target militant positions, killing 44 more insurgents and wounding several others, Hasan said. He noted that two or three civilians died when a mortar shell hit a home in the region, but he would not speculate which side fired the shell.
It is nearly impossible to independently verify the information. Pakistan's military rarely gives details about how it distinguishes militants from civilians, and access to the country's tribal areas, where al-Qaida and the Taliban have long had hideouts, is severely restricted.
The U.S. has supported Pakistan's efforts to eliminate those hideouts, and the Pakistani army has carried out several operations in the tribal belt, including in Mohmand and its neighboring district, Bajur. On multiple occasions, the military has declared victory over the Taliban in those regions, only to see violence resume. It also has had difficulty persuading displaced civilians to return home to the conflict zones.
No coherent strategy
A White House report released this week said Pakistan lacked a coherent strategy to permanently rid the region of insurgents, noting in particular, "What remains vexing is the lack of any indication of 'hold' and 'build' planning or staging efforts to complement clearing operations."
Pakistani officials have rejected the report's conclusions.
In Peshawar, the main northwest city just outside the tribal areas, a roadside bomb on Friday wounded a local police official and one of his officers when it exploded near their vehicle, police official Shafi Ullah said.
Also Friday, the bullet-riddled bodies of three men accused by the Taliban of acting as U.S. spies were found in North Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal region that America has repeatedly targeted in missile strikes, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Notes attached to the bodies claimed the men provided information to the U.S. and warned others who did the same would face a similar fate, the intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record.
Militants have carried out dozens of such killings in recent years, especially in North Waziristan, which is largely under the control of insurgent groups focused on battling U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Riaz Khan and Rasool Dawar in Peshawar contributed to this report.