ISLAMABAD 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.
The Swat offensive marked a turn in the fight against the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies in the nuclear-armed, mostly Muslim country of 175 million. The extremists' takeover of the alpine enclave which once boasted the country's only ski resort had become a symbol of their expansion and of the government's previous willingness to make peace deals with them.
The military said Saturday that it had crushed a major source of militant retaliation with the air raid on the training facility.
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, according to Lt. Col. Akhtar Abbas, the army spokesman in Swat. The army had in July declared the area, about six miles (10 kilometers) 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," Abbas told The Associated Press.
Abbas said another 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. It was not known who killed them.
The army has also been accused by human rights groups of carrying out extrajudicial killings of suspected Taliban and then dumping their bodies on streets in towns around Swat. Security forces have denied the allegations.
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 (100 kilometers) of the capital, Islamabad.
The United Nations said this past 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.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to media, said an unspecified number of militants in a car attacked the checkpoint on a main road linking the area to South Waziristan, the heartland of Taliban.
Top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud was killed in South Waziristan by a CIA missile strike earlier this month. Unmanned U.S. drones have fired more than 40 missiles into Pakistan's border areas, where top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are suspected to be hiding and plotting attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Police were also investigating the possible al-Qaida links of 12 suspected foreign militants arrested Friday on the edge of the tribal area, after they allegedly 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.