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By Hassan Orakzai
HANGU, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces, backed by tanks and artillery, attacked Taliban positions in the northwest of the country, killing 22 militants, a senior police official on Monday.
The attack was part of a broader campaign against militants in Pakistan, a regional ally which Washington sees as key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Fighting erupted on Sunday night after an assault on militants in the village of Shahukhel, which borders the Taliban stronghold of the Orakzai ethnic Pashtun tribal region.
"There has been fierce fighting throughout the night. Militants fired rocket propelled grenades while troops responded with artillery and tank fire," local police official Fareed Khattak told Reuters.
"We have a figure of 22 militants dead and 14 arrested."
The army went on the offensive in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border on October 17, aiming to root out militants who stepped up their war against the security forces in 2007.
The campaign could backfire if Taliban fighters gain an edge by sucking Pakistani troops deep into rugged mountains.
The United States, weighing options for how to stem an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan, has welcomed the Waziristan offensive, hoping it will help root out fighters from the region, described as a global hub for militants.
But the United States is keen to see Pakistan also tackle Afghan Taliban factions based in lawless enclaves along the border.
ATTACK ON MARKET
The army said on Monday afternoon that soldiers had killed nine militants in South Waziristan over the previous 24 hours.
According to the military, nearly 600 militants have been killed in the South Waziristan assault, while 70 soldiers have been killed.
There has been no independent verification as journalists are not allowed into the area except on occasional military-escort trips.
Separately, militants fired several mortar bombs into a market in Landi Kotal, the main town in the Khyber region, also on the Afghan border, killing five people and wounding eight, administration and security officials said.
Khattak said forces had entered the lawless Orakzai region where many Taliban insurgents had fled. "Now helicopter gunships are striking Taliban hideouts," he said.
A Taliban spokesman in Orakzai, Zia-ur-Rehman, said both sides suffered heavy casualties in the clashes.
Violence over recent months has dampened trade in Pakistani stocks, though dealers say investors are getting used to the bloodshed.
The main index ended 0.91 percent lower at 9,221.96. down and in low turnover on Monday as investors stayed on the sidelines on the eve of the announcement of monetary policy for the next two months, dealers said.
(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see:http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/afghanistanpakistan)
(Additional reporting by Javed Hussain, Ibrahim Shinwari, Sa har Ahmed; Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ron Popeski)