Troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery pounded militant positions in north-west Pakistan, killing 60 fighters and wounding many others, the military said today.
The assault occurred last night in the Swat valley, shortly before a senior US official arrived in Pakistan for talks with leaders of a country vital to Western security concerns.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher held talks in Islamabad this morning with Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik and was expected to meet other leaders later in the day. He made no public comment.
US officials, concerned about rising militancy in both nuclear-armed Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, have praised Pakistani efforts to clear Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds near its north-western frontier.
But militants are mounting stiff resistance including a string of suicide attacks that could fan widespread Pakistani concern that they are paying too high a price for their front-line role in the US-led war on terror.
An army statement said last night’s offensive killed at least 60 militants and wounded many more near the town of Matta.
Swat was once a popular tourist destination, but the region has become a battleground since last year when Pakistan sent troops to confront Mullah Fazlullah, a hard-line cleric who launched a violent campaign to enforce Taliban-style Islamic law.
The army said Matta was the same area where it recovered alive one of two Chinese telecommunications engineers who had been held hostage by Taliban militants.
It said militants still held the second Chinese man but efforts were under way to rescue him.
The pair disappeared in the nearby Dir region on August 29 while servicing equipment installed in the area.