ISLAMABAD – Warplanes and helicopter gunships pounded suspected militant positions in Pakistan's troubled northwest on Sunday, killing 11 Taliban fighters, intelligence officials said.
The government also upped the stakes in its conflict with Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, offering a reward of $615,000 for information leading to Mehsud's capture or death.
Elsewhere in the volatile northwest region, two government soldiers were killed and four were wounded when insurgents attacked a pair of military outposts near Wana in South Waziristan with rockets, missiles and small arms shortly after morning prayers, two intelligence officials said.
The military confirmed that two bases had been attacked but could not immediately comment on casualties.
Violence has spiked this month in South Waziristan, a rugged tribal area along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, as the government prepares for an apparent offensive there aimed at eliminating Mehsud and his militants.
The focus on South Waziristan comes as a two-month-old campaign to oust Mehsud-allied Taliban militants from the Swat Valley region, also in the northwest, wraps up. Some 2 million residents have been displaced by the fighting in Swat.
Islamabad has set its sites on the Taliban leader in recent weeks, and on Sunday the government published an announcement in two national newspapers offering a 50 million $615,000 reward for Mehsud. Smaller amounts were offered for information on his top lieutenants.
The U.S. State Department has already authorized a reward of up to $5 million for the Taliban leader.
Pakistan's military also kept up its bombing campaign in the region. Jet fighters struck the village of Kani Guram overnight, leaving eight militants dead, while helicopter gunships hit positions in Shah Alam and Raghhzai, killing three more fighters, the intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information.
It was not possible to independently confirm the casualty counts and identities of those reported killed. Journalists have little access to the remote, dangerous region.
Speaking to reporters in Lahore, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ruled out any leniency for the extremists, arguing that now is the time for strong-willed action against Taliban militants.
"The nation wants peace and the elimination of terrorism in the country so this is not the time for talks but for final a decision (against terrorism) and the decisive action is on," Gilani said.
The government's campaign against the Taliban is seen as a test of its determination to confront an insurgency that has grown in recent years after earlier military operations failed to finish the job and peace deals with the Taliban collapsed.
Washington strongly supports the campaign, hoping it will eventually bring greater stability to Pakistan and help shut down Al Qaeda and Taliban networks that use the border region as a springboard for attacks on U.S. and other forces in Afghanistan.