Kidnapped students rescued from Taliban captors
Pakistan launches offensive against growing Taliban insurgency
Scores of kidnapped Pakistani students and staff from a military-run college who were abducted by Taliban militants in the northwest of the country were rescued on Tuesday, a military spokesman said.
The abduction took place on Monday as the Pakistani army pressed on with an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, in another part of the northwest.
The Taliban were taking the kidnapped students to South Waziristan when soldiers challenged them on a road and a clash erupted, said military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.
"Under cover of the firing the militants escaped and we have recovered them all," Abbas said.
Abbas said 71 students and nine members of staff had been rescued.
Tribal elders and government officials had been locked in talks overnight on efforts to secure the release of the students and staff.
"We tried to secure the release through negotiation. After that, we were compelled to launch a military operation," said a senior military official in the NWFP provincial capital of Peshawar.
Taliban fighters with hand grenades seized the students' convoy heading home for the summer holiday from the North Waziristan ethnic Pashtun region, on the Afghan border, to the town of Bannu, 240 km (150 miles) southwest of Islamabad.
Bannu police chief Iqbal Marwat said on Monday that Taliban had seized up to 400 people in 28 vehicles.
The vice principal of the college, Javed Alam, later told Reuters about 200 had managed to slip away and had arrived at Bannu.
The surge of militant violence in Pakistan has alarmed the United States, which needs Pakistani action to help defeat al-Qaeda and get to grips with the Taliban insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.
There are several Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups based in North and South Waziristan in a loose alliance with the Taliban in Swat. South Waziristan is also the base of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
While the military has not announced any plans for an offensive after Swat is secured, officials said a South Waziristan operation looked likely.
We tried to secure the release through negotiation. After that, we were compelled to launch a military operation
Senior military official
Offensive against Taliban
Pakistan launched an offensive against a growing Taliban insurgency in the Swat valley, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, sparking a flood of fleeing civilians.
Officials say an estimated 2.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Swat and adjoining areas, prompting United Nations warnings of a humanitarian crisis.
More than 80 people have been killed in bomb blasts across the country since the operation was launched on April 26, including two people killed in a car bomb in the garrison town of Kohat, also in northwest Pakistan, on Monday.
The U.S., which has strongly backed the operation, is sending special envoy Richard Holbrooke to Pakistan on Wednesday to examine the humanitarian crisis first hand and meet some of the displaced.
Washington has announced $110 million in emergency aid, on top of a multi-billion-dollar package working its way through the U.S. Congress to help Pakistan root out extremism, a top U.S. foreign policy priority.
Pakistan said that more than 1,200 militants and around 90 soldiers died since the operation was launched at the end of April.
U.S. officials want Pakistan to craft a counterinsurgency strategy that includes political, economic and other aspects to complement the military offensive and to win popular support.