Peshawar, Nov 26: Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery launched a major ground offensive against pro-Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, killing at least 35 of them.
In the ensuing operation two army soldiers were killed and 15 others were wounded, said army spokesmen Major General Waheed Arshad.
It was the first time army troops were involved in the ground operation in the Swat region, said Major General Arshad.
He said that the troops had gained control of mountaintops overlooking three militant-held villages near Mingora.
The troops also controlled all entry and exit points to these villages, he added.
"The strongholds of militants are being hit. Troops have demolished their bunkers and destroyed a checkpost," Major General Arshad said.
Meanwhile, Swat Media Centre spokesman Amjad Iqbal told reporters that three policemen had been injured in fighting in the Balogram, Rahimabad and Barikot areas.
The Online reported that two of the policemen had sustained minor injuries when militants in Balogram and Rahimabad shot at a mobile police car.
The local administration announced a 24-hour extension to the curfew that has been in place since Saturday afternoon, enforcing it till 2 p.m. on Monday.
Local residents said that artillery had been targeting militant positions in Dherai, Kooza Bandai and Najia Top, while helicopter gunships pounded rebel cleric Maulana Fazlullah"s headquarters in Imam Dherai and its surroundings, the Daily Times reported.
People of the restive areas continued fleeing their houses to escape to the relative safety of Mingora, Faizabad and Saidu Sharif.
Meanwhile, Taliban sources said Maulana Fazlullah had visited militant positions in Najia Top, Kooza Bandai and Dherai and issued fresh instructions to his men.
Briefing journalists a day earlier, NWFP caretaker Information Minister Imtiaz Hussain Gillani said the provincial government was planning to convene a grand jirga to discuss the trouble in Swat and suggest methods to defuse the tension there.
He said the caretaker cabinet had decided to establish camps for the people of Swat displaced by the fighting between security forces and Taliban militants.
The government authorities have also set up their own FM radio station to counter the militant propaganda spread by Fazlullah"s radio station.