- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Helicopter gunships destroyed a training camp for suicide bombers in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley, killing six Taliban fighters in an area the government had already declared clear of militants, an official said Saturday.

The camp’s trainees - including teenagers - were responsible for at least three attacks in recent weeks, an army spokesman said.

Pakistan’s army says it is restoring security in Swat and surrounding areas after a three-month offensive wrested the valley back from Taliban control, but suicide attacks and skirmishes continue, with reports Saturday of scattered violence killing at least 12 more suspected militants.

Army helicopters strafed the camp late Friday night after local residents tipped off security forces to its location on a small island in the Swat River opposite the town of Charbagh, said Lt. Col. Akhtar Abbas, the army spokesman in Swat. The army had in July declared the area, about six miles east of the valley’s main town of Mingora, cleared of militants except for small pockets of resistance.

Intelligence reports linked the camp to attacks that killed a total of 10 soldiers and civilians this month, he said. Two of the attacks took place last weekend near Mingora, and another was earlier this month in a more remote area.

“We have been working to find their source, and today we destroyed that source,” Col. Abbas said.

Col. Abbas said an additional six militants were killed in two separate operations elsewhere in Swat. In one operation, five Taliban fighters were killed, including a close aide to a high-ranking Taliban commander, Shah Doraan.

Residents found the bullet-riddled bodies of six people, including two brothers who were well-known local Taliban commanders, Friday night in Odigram, a village near Mingora, villager Mohammed Salman said Saturday.

The army launched the Swat offensive in April after local Taliban leaders, who had imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam on residents there, violated a peace deal with the government and expanded into Buner, a district within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.

The United Nations said last week that about 1.5 million people who had fled fighting in the wider region were returning home, and the World Health Organization said it was concerned about providing health support for them.

Authorities also have been battling militants in Pakistan’s lawless and remote tribal belt further west along its northwestern border with Afghanistan.

In the North Waziristan border region, two intelligence officers and a government official said one militant was killed and another captured during an attack on a security checkpoint that wounded a soldier.

Police also were investigating the possible al Qaeda links of 12 suspected foreign militants arrested Friday on the edge of the tribal area, after they purportedly sneaked into the country from Iran, Punjab provincial police official Mohamad Rizwan said.

The men from Sudan, Russia, Turkey and Iran were arrested in the city of Dera Ghazi Khan, said Hassan Iqbal, a district official. Police also seized a laptop computer and $10,000 from the men, he said.

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