KOHAT, Pakistan -- A Pakistani Army helicopter has killed five Taliban militants in a restive northwestern town, taking the death toll in three days of fighting to 13, government and military officials said.
An offensive was launched late on July 16 in the Hangu district after militants killed 15 soldiers in an ambush last weekend and threatened to kill some 49 troops and officials being held hostage.
Early on the morning of July 18, the army helicopter spotted a vehicle filled with Islamist fighters in an area close to the Orakzai tribal region, previously one of the most peaceful of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal lands.
"The helicopter fired at a vehicle in Zargari area, killing five militants and wounding six," a government official in the region said.
After the attack, militants managed to take away their wounded comrades, while the dead were shifted to Hangu, according to officials.
A military official in the region confirmed the action. He said 13 militants had been killed in the past few days.
Militant Positions Targeted
On July 17, troops cleared two militant strongholds in Hangu district.
Residents and military officials said the security forces followed up by targeting militant positions in the surrounding hills with artillery and helicopter gunships.
Hundreds of villagers fled the combat zone on July 18, after officials relaxed a curfew on a main road leading to Kohat, a garrison town about 40 kilometers northeast of Hangu.
The security situation across the northwest has deteriorated in recent weeks amid mounting pressure by Western allies on Pakistan to stop militants making crossborder attacks on their troops in Afghanistan.
Afghan, U.S., and NATO officials say the flow of Islamist guerrillas into Afghanistan has increased after Pakistan's new civilian government, sworn in three months ago, sought to quell violence inside Pakistan by engaging Taliban factions in talks.
Doubting the government's sincerity, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud suspended talks last month.
On July 17, Mehsud warned violence would increase unless the provincial government in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, resigned. Mehsud was blamed for many of the suicide attacks that ripped through Pakistan in late 2007, including one that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, whose party now heads the 3-month-old coalition government.
Mehsud denies involvement in Bhutto's assassination, and many of her own party think he was being made a scapegoat.