Security forces in Pakistan are said to have killed more than 56 Taliban militants in clashes this week in one of the several northwestern districts where a major anti-insurgency operation is underway.
Local military commanders say that the militants were killed during, what they describe as, a major search and cordon operation in several villages of the Lower Dir district. They say the clashes also left three soldiers dead.
The northwestern region borders the Swat valley and several other districts where Pakistani troops are said to be wrapping up an anti-Taliban offensive they launched more than two months ago.
The military claims the offensive has killed more than 1,700 militants, but it has not reported killing of any top Taliban commanders and it is difficult to independently verify the casualty figures.
Yahya Akhunzada is a top government administrator in the war-hit district, Bunner, just 100 kilometers from the Pakistani capital.
"We have some pockets where some splinter groups of miscreants [official reference to Taliban militants] are in some mountains here and there," he said. "But they are now unable to carry out any attacks, but definitely they come to some villages for sometime and whenever we get that information our police and military authorities cordon those areas and search those areas."
The arrival of Taliban militants in Buner in late April had led to criticism within and outside Pakistan of the government's effort to rein in extremist forces. The pressure prompted the government to launch the Swat military operation, a move widely praised by the United States and Pakistan's other allies in the war against terrorism.
Early this month, the Pakistani military declared certain districts safe and clear of militants. A government-sponsored repatriation process is underway to send hundreds of thousands of displaced families back to their homes. Thousands of families have returned to their home towns, but the latest clashes between security forces and Taliban militants in some of the insurgency-hit districts have raised questions about the security conditions.
The United Nations says that the Swat military operation has dislocated nearly two million people, who have taken refugee either with their relatives or in temporary camps in major cities of the North West Frontier Province.
The provincial government says that the repatriation process is progressing smoothly and that several camps near Mardan are being closed because most of the families residing there have returned to their homes.