Fierce clashes near Afghan border kill 20
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: Pakistani security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, killed 16 pro-Taleban militants in fierce clashes in a troubled tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, a military spokesman said yesterday.
The clashes erupted in the Shawal area of North Waziristan after an overnight attack by militants on a paramilitary post during which four soldiers were killed.
Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said eight militants were killed in the retaliatory attack during the night while another eight were killed in fighting yesterday.
Tensions have been running high in North Waziristan since clashes last month in which around 200 tribesmen were killed.
The tribesmen were answering a call to arms by militant Muslim clerics following a special forces attack on an Al Qaeda camp.
"According to our information, bodies of eight miscreants have been found," Sultan said, adding that their identities were being ascertained.
He said the security forces also captured 19 militants.
Sultan said the security forces used "all necessary resources" in their assault on the militants holed up in fortress-like huge compounds.
Residents of the area said the forces used helicopter gunships in their assaults.
"Helicopter gunships have been flying in and out of Miranshah towards Shawal since morning," a resident of Miranshah said.
Officials say Shawal, an upland valley with forests and meadows, is used as a safe haven by militants who fled military operations in neighbouring South Waziristan in 2004. Hundreds of security forces and militants were killed in those battles.
Shawal is about 50km west of North Waziristan's main town of Miranshah.
Intelligence officials said three troopers were injured in a separate overnight attack in the nearby Datta Kheil area. On Monday, five people were killed in a landmine explosion and two militants died in a clash with security forces in that area.
President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, last month warned foreign militants hiding in the tribal region to leave Pakistan or face annihilation.
A large number of Al Qaeda remnants and Taleban fled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt after US-led forces toppled the radical Taleban regime in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.
Elusive Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri are believed to hiding somewhere in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terror, has deployed about 80,000 troops in its tribal regions near Afghanistan in an effort to flush out Al Qaeda and Taleban militants.
The latest clashes came as Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited the United States and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher made his first visit to Pakistan.
Asked to comment on a perception that Pakistan often launches crackdowns against militants when a senior US official is visiting here or a Pakistani leader travels to the United States, Sultan said: "Did we ask them to attack (the troops) last night?"
Von: 06.04.06 http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com