ISLAMABAD (Reuters/AFP) - Street fighting erupted in the main town of the Swat Valley on Saturday as security forces mounted a new phase of their offensive against Taliban militants, the Army said. The battle for control of Mingora is crucial to the success of the offensive launched this month to regain control of the Swat valley and stem a spreading Taliban insurgency. Street fighting has begun in Mingora, Army spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas told a news conference. He said parts of Mingora had already been cleared and that 17 militants, including an important commander, had been were killed on Saturday. Today the most important phase of operation Rah-e-Rast, the clearance of Mingora, has commenced, said Maj Abbas. In the last 24 hours, security forces have entered Mingora; 17 miscreants-terrorists, including an important miscreant commander, were killed, the spokesman said. There were intense exchanges of fire, one would-be suicide bomber was shot dead and another suicide vehicle rigged with explosives had been destroyed during the operation, he said. Pakistani troops had been tightening their encirclement of the city for days and Abbas said Saturday that militant supplies were cut off, but the fighting in Mingora is likely to heighten concerns about civilian casualties. The operation would be slow as security forces wanted to avoid civilian casualties, he said, although most residents had moved out and only five to 10 percent were still in the town. He feared militants could use civilians as human shields. The pace of the operation will be painfully slow. So be patient but the operation has started and inshallah (God willing) we are going to take it to a logical conclusion. Maj Abbas estimated that 10,000-20,000 civilians remained in Mingora. We are trying our best that there should be minimum civilian losses and thats why the operation is slow, said Abbas. The communication with the town of Kalam remains cut off, but we have received reports from the nearby town of Fatahpur, where troops are present, that there is food shortage, Abbas said. Food supplies for residents on civilian trucks are on the way to Kalam, Abbas said. About 15,000 security forces are taking part in the Swat offensive, which followed intense US pressure on Pakistan to tackle Taliban militants. Maj Abbas said around 1,500 to 2,000 hardcore militants were believed to be involved in fighting in Swat as a large number of criminals who had joined the Taliban had fled the region. Our Monitoring Desk adds: A Taliban spokesman confirmed that the soldiers had entered Mingora, but denied that any militants had been killed. The spokesman also said the Taliban would fight the security forces to their last breath. Residents said the militants are still in control of the city. According to a private TV channel, Maj Abbas said the land route between Matta and Peochar has also been restored as the forces have assumed control of the only bridge connecting the two valleys, known as Vinnay bridge. Pakistan would not allow any foreign army to operate inside the country but at the same time the country is desirous to get latest military technology to enhance Pakistan Armys capacity to fight extremists, he said while addressing the Press conference along with Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. Replying to a question, Kaira said Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has said the operation was likely to take six to eight weeks but it should not be taken as deadline. About rumours of terrorists presence in camps of IDPs, he said registration process was meant to identify suspects. About Indias involvement in Swat unrest, the Minister said blaming others without concrete proof was not the policy of the government. Online adds: The security forces claimed to have taken control of the Qamber area in Swat following fierce clashes with militants in which dozens of militants were killed and several others injured. According to official sources, there has been curfew in the whole district, while in Buner the security forces established camps in Sultanwas and Ghazi Khana areas. In Buner, curfew was relaxed from 7am to 7pm. The official sources said the forces took control of the Qamber area after three days of tough resistance by militants. Dozens of militants were killed in the clashes and the remaining fled from the area. Security forces have reached mountain tops from where the areas of Qamber and Saidu Sharif could be seen. There had been severe clashes between security forces and militants the whole night in Mingora, Kanju, Kabal and adjoining areas. According to local sources, the fleeing militants were getting together at Koza Bandai, Bara Bandai, Nangolai, Develai, Shah Dheri, Charbagh and Malam Jabba. The sources said curfew has been in place throughout the district and the area was still without water, electricity, phone and mobile service. There has been severe shortage of food items due to blockage of roads and about 200,000 people are still detained at homes. The security forces have control over 80 per cent areas of Buner and established camps in Sultanwas and Ghazi Khana along with advancement in the area. The security forces pounded suspected hideouts of militants in Nawagai and Ambila area the whole night but no casualty was reported. In Lower Dir, curfew was also relaxed from 7am to 4pm but it was not eased in Chakdara due to which people faced severe problems and standing wheat crops have been destroyed and the area has still without water, power and shortage of food items. The sources said there has been curfew throughout the Malakand district. Meanwhile, militants blew up a govt high school in Tehsil Ambar of Mohmand Agency with explosives on late Friday night. According to a private TV channel, militants had placed explosives near government high school in Musa Kor of Tehsil Ambar, which went late Friday night, destroying the school completely but no casualty was reported. On the other hand, security forces pounded suspected hideouts of militants in Sepri, Bai Kor and Rangeen Ghunda areas of Tehsil Yaka Ghund, however no casualty was reported. Meanwhile, in North Waziristan a convoy of security forces survived a remote control bomb attack near Miranshah. According to sources, the convoy was going to Bannu from Miranshah when some unknown people attacked it with remote control bomb but no casualty was reported. After the incident, the security forces cordoned off the area and blocked Miranshah-Bannu road for all types of traffic.