Backed by helicopter gunships, Pakistani troops on Tuesday killed 15 militants and captured six others during an operation against the banned Lashkar-e-Islam group in the restive Khyber tribal region in the northwest after authorities imposed a curfew in a key district there.

The security forces launched the operation in Bara sub-division of Khyber agency this morning after curfew was clamped on the region for an indefinite period.

Troops entered the militant stronghold of Gurgurey and occupied important heights, the Frontier Corps’ media cell said.

Helicopter gunships backed the ground forces, who killed 15 militants and arrested six more during clashes in several areas of Khyber Agency.

The troops destroyed several hideouts and 12 cars and seized a cache of arms and ammunition. Search and clearance operations were underway at several places, the Frontier Corps said.

Over 1,000 security personnel and heavy artillery moved into Bara on Sunday after militants blew up a school on Saturday night, taking to four the number of attacks on educational institutions in the past three weeks.

As the troops took up positions, announcements were made on loudspeakers asking people to stay indoors.

Officials said a recent increase in suicide attacks in Peshawar and other parts of North West Frontier Province too had influenced the decision to launch an operation in Khyber agency.

Bara is located about seven kilometres from the provincial capital of Peshawar and is adjacent to the Orakzai tribal agency, where a large number of militants have taken refuge since the army launched an operation against the Taliban in South Waziristan last month.

There have been reports that suicide bombers are being trained in Orakzai agency to carry out attacks in Peshawar and other parts of NWFP.

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