PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan security forces killed 30 militants in gunbattles in the mountainous northwestern Khyber region on Saturday, a senior official said, but a spokesman for the militants denied suffering any losses.
The two sides have been making conflicting claims about their success in clashes in Tirah Valley, near the Afghan border, and there is no way to confirm casualties independently as the area is sealed off to journalists.
“The security forces had started advancement towards the hilltops where the terrorists had established sanctuaries,” a senior security official in Peshawar, who requested that he not be identified, said.
“So far, 30 terrorists have been killed and a number of their compounds destroyed.” He said “fierce” fighting was continuing.
The government said on Saturday 32,347 people had been arrested on charges “aimed at ridding the country of terrorism and extremism” since the launch of the National Action Plan in December, Pakistan’s APP news agency reported.
The plan was introduced after the Dec. 16 killing of 132 schoolchildren by suspected Taliban militants in Peshawar. The APP did not say what had happened to those detained.
The air force, struggling to reclaim land lost to the militants years ago, has been pounding positions in the Tirah Valley for days and the military said before Saturday’s clashes it had killed more than 100 militants. At least seven soldiers had also been killed, it said.
Salahuddin Ayubi, a spokesman for the Lashkar-e-Islami, which announced an alliance with the Pakistani Taliban earlier this month, denied suffering losses on Saturday.
Ayubi said fighting between the militants and Pakistani forces started early on Saturday in parts of the valley.
“We didn’t suffer human losses. Our fighters are engaged in fighting and didn’t vacate their posts in Tirah,” he told Reuters.
Taliban sources said that leaders had urged fighters to get to the valley and support Lashkar-e-Islami.
The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share a similar jihadist ideology but operate as separate entities. The Pakistani Taliban is focused on toppling the state and establishing strict Islamic rule.
A military official said on condition of anonymity on Friday it would be extremely difficult for Pakistan to commit troops to a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen as it was already overstretched on its own borders.
Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Andrew Roche