ISLAMABAD – The Pakistani army said Sunday at least 180 suspected militants have been killed in the past 24 hours in the northwest's Swat Valley and surrounding areas.
The casualty figures given in the Sunday afternoon statement could not be independently verified. It also was unclear whether any of the deaths had been reported in army statements from Saturday.
The statement said some 50 to 60 militants were killed Sunday in Swat.
But it said the majority of killings occurred in neighboring Shangla district, with about 140 militant bodies found.
It was unclear why the numbers given in the statement did not always add up.
Civilians cowered in hospital beds and trapped residents struggled to feed their children Saturday, as Pakistani warplanes pounded the Taliban-held valley in what Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called a "war of the country's survival."
The offensive has prompted the flight of hundreds of thousands of terrified residents, adding a humanitarian emergency to the nuclear-armed nation's security, economic and political problems. Desperate refugees looted U.N. supplies in one camp, taking blankets and cooking oil.
A suspected U.S. missile strike killed nine people, mostly foreigners, in South Waziristan, another militant stronghold near the Afghan border, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The identities of the victims remained unclear.
Gilani directed millions of dollars to help the residents of a region where faith in the government is shaky, saying the army "can only be successful if there is support of the masses."
Gilani held an emergency Cabinet meeting Saturday. Speaking to reporters afterward, he called the Swat offensive a "war of the country's survival" but said the military could win.
Encouraged by Washington, Pakistan's leaders launched the full-scale offensive on Thursday to halt the spread of Taliban control in districts within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistan's army is fighting to wrest Swat and neighboring districts from militants who dominate the adjoining tribal belt along the Afghan frontier, where U.S. officials say Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden is likely holed up.
Witness accounts indicate that scores of civilians have already been killed or injured in the escalating clashes in the Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts.