ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Ten militants have been killed and five troops wounded during a military operation to expel insurgents from a town in the Pakistan’s volatile northwest, the army said Friday.
Spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said security forces backed by helicopter gunships were continuing “mopping up” operations in the suburbs of Zargari after clearing the town of militants.
The operation was launched Wednesday after militant supporters of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud ambushed a military convoy near Zagari last week and killed 17 troops. Five militants also died in the clash, which came days after police arrested a militant known as Rafiuddin, a deputy of Mehsud.
Mehsud’s spokesman on Thursday blamed the government in North West Frontier Province for this and other military operations and threatened to attack it if it did not resign within five days.
Local police official Saif Ullah said two civilians were also hurt Thursday when a mortar landed near their home. The provincial administration took office after Feb. 18 national elections which installed new civilian rulers in Pakistan after eight years of dominance by army strongman President Pervez Musharraf.
It has since negotiated peace deals with militants and tribes in a shift from Musharraf’s strategy of relying primarily on military force to tackle galloping Islamic extremism. But concern is growing that the peace deals have strengthened the hand of Taliban and al-Qaida militants and led to a spike in attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan.