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Nearly 40 Said Killed In Fighting In Northwestern Pakistan

Pro-Taliban militants in the Swat Valley (file photo)
MINGORA -- Pakistani forces pounded militant positions in the Swat Valley in the northwest on August 30 and a military spokesman said nearly 40 insurgents had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Violence has intensified in Pakistan in recent weeks with the military battling militants in three different parts of the northwest, while the militants have responded with bomb attacks on the security forces.

Deteriorating security has coincided with a faltering economy and political upheaval, with the resignation of the unpopular Pervez Musharraf as president last week followed within days by a split in the ruling coalition.

Worry about security and politics has unnerved investors who have sent Pakistani financial markets skidding lower, with the country's main share index falling about 36 percent this year.

Some of the most intense fighting has been in the Swat Valley, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

The military used jet fighters and helicopter gunships to attack militant positions in the Matta area on August 29, with the assault continuing through the night until after dawn.

Major Nasir Ali, a military spokesman in the region, said nearly 40 militants had been killed in the past 24 hours.

"We have clear-cut orders from the provincial government and the military to complete the operation until the militants are flushed out and the writ of the government is established," Ali said.

The mountain valley was one of Pakistan's a main tourist destinations until last year, when Pakistani Taliban infiltrated from sanctuaries in lawless areas on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric campaigning for hardline rule.

Authorities struck a peace pact with militants in the valley in May but it soon broke down and violence surged.


The military is also battling militants in the Bajaur area on the Afghan border, across mountains to the west of Swat, and in the South Waziristan region, to the southwest.

The fighting has displaced about 250,000 people, most of whom are staying with friends and relatives.

But nearly 100,000 are staying in camps, some set up in schools or in open areas with little or no sanitation, raising fear of disease and concern the government might soon face a humanitarian crisis on top of its many other problems.

But the action has eased fears in the United States and among other allies that the new government might not prosecute the unpopular campaign against militants with the same commitment that Musharraf did.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week he was encouraged by the Pakistani efforts.

The United States says Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants are based in sanctuaries in northwest Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border, where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot violence in the West.

Mullen met Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, this week on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to discuss the militant havens.

Mullen later played down any expectation the day-long meeting aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on August 26 would lead quickly to progress against the militants.

But he said: "I came away from the meeting very encouraged that the focus is where it needs to be."