GHALANAI, Jan 20: Security forces killed more than 40 militants on Tuesday in a major offensive in Mohmand region.

(According to AFP, a security official claimed that 60 ‘hardcore militants’ had been killed in the operation).

A paramilitary official told Dawn that the Frontier Crops and Mohmand Rifles, backed by warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, pounded suspected hideouts of militants in five villages of Lakaro and Pandyali tehsils, said to be stronghold of Tehrik-i-Taliban’s Mohmand chapter.

Three civilians, including the owner of a restaurant and his two sons, were killed in Danish Kol, residents said.

Twelve civilians were injured in the air strike and mortar attacks.

The official said the death toll could rise because fighting continued till late in the night.

Last week, a fierce gunbattle took place when political administration carried out a search operation after over 600 militants, most of them from Afghanistan, attacked a military camp and two checkposts in the agency. Six security personnel and over 43 militants were killed.

The operation was launched after tribesmen did not hand over militants from Bajaur who had crossed into northern parts of the agency.

Over 90 vacant houses, scores of shops, three schools, a petrol pump and a basic health unit along the main road in Lakaro have been destroyed by the political administration for security reasons.

The local Taliban resisted the move and attacked security forces from their hideouts in villages along the road and on nearby mountains.

The local administration has taken tough security measures in the area. Troops have erected barricades at entry and exit points where suspected vehicles and persons are searched.

A large number of villagers were seen leaving Pandyali and Ambar tehsils to escape bombing and shelling.

According to a press release issued by the Frontier Corps headquarters in Peshawar late on Tuesday night, 60 militants, including several key local commanders, were killed in the Mohmand operation since Monday night.

It said 22 militants had been killed on Monday and 38 on Tuesday. Included among them were local commanders Umar Khitab, Qari Mumtaz, Haroonur Rashid, Bilal, Yaqub Yar, Yusuf and Hamza.

According to the press release, security forces have secured the road from Darwazgai to Lakaro-Mamad Gatt and suspected hideouts of militants in Habibzai and Mulakhel have been destroyed.

The militants were also engaged in Kareer and Chingal villages. “There are obvious signs of weakness and desperation in the ranks of militants, both local and foreign, who are on the run,” it said.