A two-month offensive by Pakistani forces has driven militants from a stronghold through which Taliban and al-Qaida fighters had poured into neighboring Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops, the army said Saturday.
But the operation claimed the lives of at least 95 civilians - whose deaths are a critical issue that observers warn can only increases sympathy for the militants.
The military said its forces captured Loi Sam in the Bajur tribal region Friday after a long and bloody struggle. The town sits on a vital intersection linking the border to three neighboring Pakistani regions.
"Now we have complete control in this area from where miscreants used to go to Afghanistan, Mohmand, Dir and Swat," army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters flown to Bajur by military helicopter. "Miscreants have been expelled or killed."
Bajur is part of Pakistan's tribal belt that has become the stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters waging an intensifying insurgency on both sides of the border.
The army offensive in Bajur was launched in early August, after government officials declared it a "megasanctuary" for militants who had set up a virtual ministate, complete with Taliban-style courts.
U.S. officials worried about fatalities among their forces in Afghanistan have praised the operation and said it was helping reduce violence on the Afghan side. But the Americans have not halted missile strikes on suspected militants hideouts in other parts of Pakistan's border region, despite Islamabad's protests that the attacks violate its sovereignty.