The death toll was announced shortly before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Pakistan for crunch talks aimed at ramping up pressure on Islamabad to do more to eliminate Taliban safe havens on the Afghan border. The fighting erupted when the Frontier Corps (FC) launched a search operation in the Malik Din Khel area of the agency.Mutahir Zeb, the top administrative official of Khyber Agency, said militants from Lashkar-e-Islam were involved.
“At least 34 militants and three soldiers were killed during an encounter,” a paramilitary statement said. There was no immediate independent confirmation of the death toll as the area is off-limits to journalists and aid workers. “Security forces responded effectively and have cleared the area of militants,” it said. Zeb had said earlier that four soldiers had been killed. Lashkar-e-Islam is the most active militant group in Khyber and is led by feared warlord Mangal Bagh. It has loose ideological ties to the Taliban, but operates independently. – PT