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Fighting rages in NW Pakistan, 15 militants, one soldier killed: army

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Fifteen militants and one soldier were killed on Thursday when the Pakistani military mounted another operation in a week of fighting designed to seize control of a remote but strategic valley in the northwest, the army said.

The military has faced fierce resistance from the Taliban and its allies in the Tirah Valley in the Khyber region since troops set out to dislodge insurgents from strategically important heights above the valley six days ago.

Pakistani military officials say insurgents use the valley as a base camp that enables them to carry out raids in other semi-autonomous tribal areas near the Afghan border.

"Fresh clashes started early Thursday when the security forces launched another operation to secure control of the valley," said a military official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, adding that 15 militants and a soldier had been killed.

On Tuesday, the military said 23 Pakistani soldiers and 110 militants had been killed in four days of fierce fighting in the area.

Since 2009, the Pakistani military and pro-government militias have clawed back territory from the Taliban, who once controlled land a few hours' drive from the capital, Islamabad.

However, a series of army offensives have failed to break the back of the Taliban, which is close to al Qaeda and is blamed for many of the suicide bombings across nuclear-armed Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally.

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Tait)

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