Pakistan army kills 55 militants near Afghan border

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Islamabad: At least 55 militants were killed in airstrikes and a gun battle with ground forces in Pakistan’s troubled northwest where the military launched a major offensive this year, officials said Saturday.

The army intensified its offensive after the massacre of 150 people in a school in Peshawar this month, a carnage which Pakistan described as its own “mini 9/11” and a game-changer in the fight against extremism.

Troops raided a militant hideout late Friday in an area adjoining Orakzai and Khyber tribal districts — near the Afghan border — where the insurgents had gathered for a meeting, the military said in a statement.

“An intense battle took place, in which 16 terrorists were killed and 20 injured,” it said, adding that “fleeing terrorists left behind nine dead bodies of their accomplices”.

Troops arrested two critically wounded militants while four soldiers were also wounded in the battle, the statement said.

Separately, 39 militants, including two rebel commanders, were killed in airstrikes in the northwest late Friday and an ammunition depot was also destroyed, according to military spokesperson Major General Asim Bajwa.

It was not possible to independently verify the casualties as media are banned from visiting the far-flung area.

In another incident, police said they arrested an important Taliban commander who was wanted for attacks on police and was also involved in the killing a local journalist in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The army has been waging a major offensive against longstanding Taliban and other militant strongholds in the restive tribal areas on the Afghan border for the last six months.

The offensive gathered momentum after the December 16 attack on an army-run school in Peshawar which killed 150 people, 134 of them children.

The Pakistani military says it has killed more than 1,700 militants so far in its heavy offensive in the tribal zone, with 126 soldiers having lost their lives.

Peshawar conspirator killed

Forces have killed a Taliban commander who allegedly facilitated the Peshawar school massacre.

Named only as “Saddam”, the militant was killed Thursday night in a gunfight with security forces in the restive Khyber tribal area, which borders the northwestern city of Peshawar where last week’s horrific attack took place.

“Commander Saddam was a dreaded terrorist, who was killed in an exchange of fire with the security forces in Jamrud town of Khyber tribal region,” top local administration official Shahab Ali Shah told a press conference in Peshawar.

He added that Saddam is believed to have facilitated the school attack, although the extent or capacity of his alleged involvement was not yet known.

He described Saddam as an important commander in the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and said he had masterminded several bomb attacks.

Saddam and his accomplices had been involved in several recent attacks on security forces that had resulted in heavy casualties, Shah said.

Pakistan has ramped up its anti-terror strategy in the wake of the December 16 slaughter at an army-run school in Peshawar, where 134 children were among the victims gunned down by heavily-armed Taliban militants.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced the establishment of military courts for terror-related cases in order to accelerate trials, and he has also lifted a six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstating it for terrorism-related cases.

Officials said Pakistan plans to execute around 500 militants in the coming weeks.

UN urges Pakistan to halt executions

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, is pressing Pakistan to end capital punishment and restore a moratorium on the death penalty the government lifted in terror cases following the Taliban school massacre.

Ban spoke with Sharif on Thursday to express his condolences after the slaughter in Peshawar.

However, “while fully recognizing the difficult circumstances, the secretary general urged the government of Pakistan to stop the executions of convicts and re-impose the moratorium on the death penalty,” Ban’s office said in a statement.

Sharif promised that “all legal norms would be respected,” the statement added.

The prime minister ended the six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstating it for terrorism-related cases, in the wake of the deadliest terror attack in Pakistani history.

Pakistan plans to execute 500 militants in the coming weeks.

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