Pakistan army says it killed 41 gunmen in northwest

Army helicopters and artillery struck pro-Taliban militants in the mountains of northern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 41 followers of a rebel cleric, the military said. At least 33 militants died Wednesday in a series of assaults in Swat, a valley about 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, the army said. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad had no confirmation of local media reports that about 60 people, including civilians, had died in the army raids. On Thursday, army helicopters hit near the towns of Kabal and Kuza Bande, and the military said it intercepted militant communications that indicated eight rebels were killed. Two army soldiers were killed in a bomb attack on a military convoy Wednesday, according to the police in the area. However, the army said only that eight soldiers were wounded. Troops were also trying to clear a road passing through Alpurai, a town that had reportedly been in the hands of followers of firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah since Tuesday. Troops fired artillery and mortars against militants in a mountain gorge near Alpurai and militants were fleeing the town, the army said. Militants on Wednesday fired six mortar rounds at the airport near Mingora, the region's main town, killing two troops and injuring five more, the army said. Fighting has raged in Swat since July when government troops were deployed in response to a call from Fazlullah for his supporters to wage holy war against the government. Although the government has sent even more troops to Swat to curb Fazlullah's activities, a string of towns and villages are still under the control of militants who are demanding the implementation of Taliban-style Islamic laws. Fazlullah, who is on the run from authorities, uses an illegal FM radio station to call for support. The violence in Swat, once a popular tourist destination, has left scores of militants and government forces dead. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has cited the deteriorating situation to justify the state of emergency he declared on Nov. 3. He said Thursday that the army would soon hit the militants "very hard."