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Fresh Clashes In Pakistan's Swat Valley; Dozens Killed

Pakistani Army soldiers and police secure the site where a suicide bomber killed more than 13 police recruits in a police training camp in Mingora on August 30.
MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Pakistani troops killed 15 militants in fresh clashes in Swat, the army has said, taking the death toll to 45 in five days after a lull in the campaign to clear the Taliban out of the northwestern valley.

Security forces also launched an operation to flush out militants in the northwestern tribal region of Khyber, bordering Afghanistan, a government official said.

The army went on the offensive in Swat in late April and says it has killed over 2,000 militants, and lost 312 soldiers in the fighting. Independent casualty estimates are unavailable.

Despite the Taliban's losses, the recent clashes and a suicide attack in Swat's main town of Mingora on August 30 showed they can still hit back.

"It was very precise and we managed to kill 15 militants," Lieutenant Colonel Akhtar Abbas, a military spokesman in Swat, said of the attack launched on the evening of August 31.

The army had already killed at least 30 insurgents in encounters since August 28, while 12 police recruits were killed by a suicide bomber on August 30.

Show Of Force

Pakistan's show of force in Swat had allayed fears among allies, in particular the United States and other countries with troops in neighboring Afghanistan, that the nuclear-armed country was failing to confront spreading Islamist militancy.

In Khyber, forces killed five militants and destroyed three militant bases in the latest offensive.

"It's an assault against terrorists, antisocial and antistate elements and it will continue until the region is cleared of them," the top government officer, Tariq Hayat Khan, told Reuters.

Troops used artillery to attack militant positions while residents said helicopter gunships flew over the area but did not take part in the operation.

The offensive in Khyber came less than a week after a suicide bomber killed 22 Pakistani border guards in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan.

The August 27 attack on Khyber was the first major operation since Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. missile strike in early August.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who led militants in the Khyber, Orakzai, and Kurram tribal regions, has been chosen as the new overall commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

Security officials have been expecting Hakimullah's fighters to mount more reprisals following the killing of Baitullah.