ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Soldiers sent to halt a Taliban advance toward the Pakistani capital fought their way over a mountain pass Thursday, killed at least 14 militants and narrowly escaped a wave of suicide car bombers, the army said.
Troops ousted militants from the Ambela Pass leading over the mountains into Buner and were inching toward the north, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said.
Soldiers opened fire on four suspected suicide car bombers who drove toward them near the pass, Abbas said. Two vehicles exploded and the other two managed to drive away. No troops were hurt, he said.
Troops also destroyed four militant vehicles in Dir, a nearby district to the west, Abbas said. In all, at least 14 militants were killed and one soldier was wounded in the previous 24 hours, he said.
Abbas also said militants, who have kidnapped dozens of lightly armed police and paramilitary troops, burned a police station farther north and sealed off the town of Sultanwas.
"The people of Sultanwas are in great distress," Abbas said at a news conference. "Nobody is being allowed to move out of Sultanwas."
Security forces backed by artillery and warplanes began pushing into Buner, a district just 60 miles from Islamabad, on Tuesday after Taliban militants from the neighboring Swat Valley muscled into the area under cover of a peace pact.
Abbas said militants killed a police officer and threw his body into a river in Swat, but he said the peace deal centered on the valley remained intact.
A spokesman for the Taliban in Swat insisted it was sticking to the peace process. The militants in Buner were all local Taliban, said the spokesman, Muslim Khan.
"They are our friends and they have not suffered any big losses so far," Khan said.