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The Pakistani military has penetrated key Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan and claims the insurgency there is weakening. But amid reports that a dozen militants were killed by the Pakistani army came news that a similar number of civilians were killed by a Taliban bomb near a busy Peshawar market, a sign that Pakistan's jihadists remain undeterred.
The ground effort to rout the Pakistani Taliban was launched three weeks ago, involving some 30,000 troops and backed by fighter jets and helicopters. Entering the weekend, troops were moving into Ladha, Sararogha and Mekeen -- hometown of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed August 5 by a US drone. Pakistan's The Nation reports that the army is making progress.
"In last 24 hours, 12 terrorists have been killed, and five soldiers including two officers were injured," the military said in a statement Saturday.
The strategic town of Sararogha was a former operational base of Mehsud. Security forces also captured a 30-feet long tunnel and "plenty of ammunition has been discovered and destroyed," it said.
Troops moved into Mekeen on Friday and killed at least 21 insurgents, reports the Islamabad-based Daily Times. Mehsud's house was demolished in an act of vengeance for the hundreds of civilians killed in recent Taliban bombings, The Scotsman reportedfrom the Pakistani capital.
On Sunday, AFP reported that 12 people including a former Taliban supporter turned anti-militant mayor were killed by a suicide car bomber.
The bomber also wounded 36 people outside a property of Mayor Abdul Malik on the outskirts of the northwest city troubled by Islamist militancy. Malik, one of a number of city mayors, had raised a militia against Taliban rebels ...
The mayor had in the past survived a number of attempts on his life by his former allies, who are battling Pakistan's government and want to impose a harsh brand of Islamic law across swathes of the northwest.
The attacker detonated his explosives-packed car close to both Malik's guesthouse and the cattle market, littering the road with the corpses of cows and twisted metal from ruined vehicles, police and witnesses said.
More than 350 civilians have been killed since early October in bombings blamed on the Taliban, the deadliest of which was an October 28 explosion in Peshawar that killed 118, says AFP. The BBC reports that most Pakistanis remain "firmly behind" the operation in South Waziristan despite increasing violence.
As the military has advanced, Taliban leaders have remained defiant but apparently concerned about the loyalty of their fighters. One chief recently warned jihadists that cowards will "go to hell," reports The Scotsman.
"Remember this is the commandment of God that once fighting starts with the enemy, you cannot leave the battlefield without permission from your commander, and don't look for excuses to run away from the fighting," Hakimullah Mehsud told followers in a speech intercepted on Thursday.
Pakistani intelligence officials shared a recording of the speech – broadcast over a wireless radio network – with reporters, seeking to promote the idea that the militant leader is concerned about desertions in the ranks.