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Pakistan security forces kill 7 militants
A police officer searches a car as another observes the area at a checkpoint in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009. (AP / Mohammad Sajjad)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Security forces fighting their way through a mountainous Taliban stronghold killed at least seven militants Sunday and injured several more, officials said, while Pakistan's foreign minister said the offensive in tribal South Waziristan should finish sooner than originally expected.
As part of the government's ramping up of its fight against the militants, it will offer bounties of up to 50,000,000 rupees ($600,000) for each of the top three Taliban leaders, according to an official advertisement to be published Monday in Pakistani newspapers and obtained by The Associated Press.
But the recent successes of the campaign in South Waziristan -- and the optimism of Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi that it would soon achieve its objectives -- were offset by a string of anti-government attacks in other tribal regions, where militants kidnapped and killed a prominent pro-government activist and blew up a girls' school.
The kidnapping occurred Saturday night in the town of Khar, the largest in the Bajur tribal region, when a group of about 60 militants stormed the house of Jahangir Khan, said Adalat Khan, a town official.
"The bullet-riddled body of Jahangir Khan was found a kilometre away from the main town, with his legs and hands tied with a rope," he said. Khan had apparently been dragged before being shot, he said.
The same militants also kidnapped one of the town's wealthiest landlords along with his son, his grandson and another relative. It was not immediately clear why they were kidnapped, though abductions for ransom have become increasingly common.
Pakistan launched a major offensive in Bajur last year and now insists it has total control nearly everywhere in the region, including in Khar -- a claim undercut by the Saturday attacks and a series of other violent incidents in recent months.
Militants also blew up a girls' school in the Khyber tribal region, the latest in the Taliban's campaign against modern education that has destroyed hundreds of schools across Pakistan, said local official Ghulam Farooq Khan. The school's guard and three of his relatives were injured in the Sunday attack in the town of Bara, near where seven Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed in a Saturday roadside bombing.
Despite such problems, Qureshi insisted things were going well in the its two-week-old offensive in South Waziristan, one of the semiautonomous tribal regions where the Taliban has grown in power in recent years.
"The operation so far has been very successful. The resistance that we were expecting initially did not come with the same swiftness we were expecting," the foreign minister told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, where he was to attend a meeting of Muslim countries starting Monday.
The Sunday fighting, meanwhile, took place in Kaniguram, a Taliban stronghold where government forces are still fighting for control of about half of the village.
The officials, from Pakistan's intelligence branches and the paramilitary Frontier Corps, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
A total of nine militants have been killed in South Waziristan over the past 24 hours, according to an army statement. Officials said seven of those were killed Sunday. Two soldiers have also been killed.
Dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized across South Waziristan over the past day, the statement added, including rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns, anti-tank mines, a missile launcher and jammers to interfere with government communications equipment.
While Pakistan aided in the rise of the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s, the growth of a militant Taliban network on its own soil has increasingly destabilized the country.
On Monday, the government plans to advertise bounties for the group's leaders. The highest bounties will be offered for help in the capture -- dead or alive -- of Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of Pakistani Taliban, Waliur Rehman, the South Waziristan commander, and Qari Hussain Mehsud, believed to be the main trainer of suicide bombers. Lesser bounties were offered for 16 other Taliban officials.
"Such people are killers of humanity, and they deserve an exemplary punishment," the advertisement states. "The brutal acts of these people are earning a bad name for the Muslims in Pakistan and around the world."
The Taliban -- including fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and places like Uzbekistan, Chechnya and the Arab world -- have long taken refuge in the poorly developed and rugged, mountainous tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where they can often operate openly. Osama bin Laden and many of his top al Qaeda lieutenants are also thought to be in hiding along the border.
Pakistan launched its offensive in mid-October in order to drive out the militants, though it remains unclear what Islamabad plans to do once it has taken military control of the region. The government has never had much authority in the tribal areas, which used to fall under the control of tribal elders but which have become increasingly lawless as the militants killed traditional leaders during their own rise to power.