PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships killed more than two dozen al Qaeda-linked militants in a troubled tribal region on the Afghan border, officials said on Monday.
According to official estimates well over 1,000 militants have been killed in Bajaur since fighting erupted there in August and a military offensive was stepped up last month.
Senior generals have described the area as a “centre of gravity” for militants. Islamist guerrillas from Afghanistan and neighbouring tribal regions have reinforced their hard-pressed comrades, while security forces have won support from tribal militias to force the militants out of their lands.
The bodies of six tribesmen who had jointed a tribal militia were found in the past few days.
Helicopter gunships and artillery pounded militant positions in a shanty neighbourhood near the town of Charmang, which was once used as an Afghan refugee camp.
“The militants had set up bunkers in the camp and have been launching attacks on the security forces from there,” a senior government official in Khar, Bajaur’s main town, said.
“Twenty-five militants were killed in the airstrike,” he added.
There have been clashes between the militants and a pro-government tribal militia in Kotkai village near Charmang.
Four tribesmen were killed in the fighting, another government official said. He said several militants were also killed in the fighting but was unsure of the number.
The militants have unleashed a wave of suicide attacks in recent weeks in an apparent reaction to the offensives mounted against them in Bajaur and the northwestern Swat valley.
A suicide car bomber killed more than 50 people and wounded over 100 wounded at a tribal council meeting in the Orakzai tribal region on Friday.
Officials on Sunday said security forces had killed 27 militants, including a dozen “would-be suicide bombers”.
Pakistani tribal regions on the Afghan border are regarded as safe havens for al Qaeda militants and their Taliban allies.
The United States has been putting Pakistan under pressure to eliminate al Qaeda and Taliban havens in the tribal regions, and stop the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan.
The United States has also stepped up its campaign against militant targets in Pakistan in recent weeks.
Since the start of September, U.S. forces have carried out at least ten missile attacks, the latest on Saturday night.
Pakistan has condemned the missile attacks, saying they undermined efforts to turn the tribespeople against the militants. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and David Fox)