Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Saturday, 25 October 2008 14:49 UK

Pakistan forces 'take key town'

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistan map

The Pakistan army says it has retaken a key settlement in the troubled north-western region, held by pro-Taleban militants for nearly three months.

Maj Gen Tariq Khan said troops were now in complete control of the town of Loisam, in the Bajaur tribal region.

The operation in the region began in early August after several major attacks on the army.

Maj Gen Khan said that nearly 1,500 insurgents and 73 security personnel had been killed in the offensive.

It is impossible to verify any of this information independently.

Bajaur is one of the tribal areas on the Afghan border where the government has previously had little influence. Taleban raids into Afghanistan are regularly launched from here.

And it is here, too, that the Pakistan army has been waging a long battle against insurgents, displacing hundreds of thousands of ordinary people.

Foreign militants

The settlement of Loisam is small but is seen as strategically important.

Maj Gen Khan said that 300 foreign militants had been arrested during the offensive, including Afghans, Chechens, Uzbeks and Turkmen.

Pakistani troops in Loisam
Loisam is seen as a strategically important town

The ceaseless violence in the north-west prompted a resolution this week from a joint sitting of parliament.

It said Pakistan should not be used as a launching pad for attacks on other countries, a probable reference to attacks on Afghanistan.

But it also said any incursions into Pakistan should be resisted - a veiled allusion to recent missile strikes inside the country, attributed to US forces operating from Afghanistan.

One, on Thursday, killed at least eight people said to be students of a religious school close to the base of an important Taleban commander.

The all-party resolution also said that in the troubled north-west, the army should be replaced as soon as possible by civilian law-enforcement agencies, and that militancy and extremism should be met by developing consensus and dialogue.

That language may not please the Americans or the Afghans, who want Pakistan to continue military action against the militants.

But many Pakistanis see the foreign presence in this part of the world as an imperialist occupation.

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