40 Taliban fighters slain, Pakistan says
Fighter jets bombed Taliban hide-outs in Pakistan’s troubled northwest while troops pushed into militant territory on the ground, killing at least 40 insurgents in a 24-hour siege, the army said Saturday.
Separately, five others died when an explosion ripped through a house near the border with Afghanistan, local officials said. Claims that it was a missile strike could not immediately be confirmed.
Pakistan’s 5-month-old civilian government has been beset by violence and political instability since Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign as president two weeks ago, adding to the many challenges facing the Muslim nation of 168 million people.
The economy is sinking, power outages and food shortages are common, and many drivers cannot afford to fill up their tanks. But with a string of suicide bombings, including one that left 67 dead near the capital, Islamabad, tackling extremism is a priority.
Leaders initially offered to hold peace talks with insurgents -- something Musharraf also briefly tried before his ouster -- but have since resorted to what some are calling all-out war.
Army spokesman Maj. Nasir Ali said at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed Friday when military jets pounded militants in the Swat Valley, which was a popular tourist destination not long ago.
A cache of ammunition exploded when it was hit in one of the strikes, he said, adding that troops were advancing into the region Saturday to root out other militant fighters.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said eight of his men, including a local commander, were killed.
Officials say that fighting in Swat and Bajaur, a rumored hide-out of Osama bin Laden, has left nearly 500 militants dead this month. There are no separate statistics for civilians, but witnesses say dozens have been killed.
More than 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, most of them women and children, and are living in desperate conditions in sweltering, mosquito-infested relief camps.