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Pakistani forces kill 52 militants
Fri Feb 6, 2009 9:27am EST
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By Ibrahim Shinwari
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani government forces killed 52 Islamist militants on Friday to the south of the Khyber region, where a vital supply route for Western forces in Afghanistan passes.
Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on the road into land-locked Afghanistan since last year, exposing the vulnerability of Western supply links just as the United States is planning a surge of troops to tackle the Taliban.
Army helicopter gunships attacked the militants near the border between the Khyber and Orakzai regions, said Tariq Hayat, Khyber's top administration official.
"Fifty-two militants were killed and a huge ammunition depot and eight vehicles were destroyed," Hayat told Reuters.
"Most of the deaths occurred because the destruction of the ammunition depot triggered a series of explosions," he said.
There was no independent verification of the casualty figure that Hayat said came from the helicopter pilots and air surveillance.
Security has deteriorated sharply in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan border including in the Khyber region, since last year.
Earlier, a suicide car bomber blew himself up and wounded seven people when police stopped him at a checkpoint on a small bridge on the road through the Khyber Pass.
The blast damaged the bridge and a truck waiting to cross it but administration official Fida Bangash said he suspected the bomber was heading to a bigger bridge destroyed in a blast on Tuesday that soldiers are repairing.
"The bomber was probably heading toward where army engineers are fixing the bridge destroyed on Tuesday," Bangash said.
Traffic on the road was suspended for two days after the Tuesday attack on the 30-meter (100-foot) iron bridge, 23 km (15 miles) west of the city of Peshawar.
But soldiers have cleared a detour over a dried up river and trucks have resumed taking supplies up to the border.
The U.S. Defense Department says the U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops.
RIOT AFTER BOMB
Escalating violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has raised concern about the stability of a country seen as vital to efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda. Continued...
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