The soldiers, their hands tied behind their backs and apparently shot at close range, were found on Friday near Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan area in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal territories.

They were likely killed shortly after their convoy was ambushed on Monday, a Pakistan army official said. 

Scores of people have been killed since last week when paramilitary forces hunting fighters allegedly linked to Usama bin Ladin ran into a hail of bullets as they approached a suspect's house in the rugged South Waziristan region.
 
The battle, involving 5000 troops, is Pakistan's biggest ever in the region. The executed troops are separate to a group of 14 soldiers and officials thought to have been kidnapped at the start of the clashes.

Tribal elders had been trying for days to persuade the fighters to release the men and surrender.

President Pervez Musharraf's government announced on Thursday more troops would be sent to the tribal territories bordering Afghanistan to reinforce a campaign to root out al-Qaida fighters and their Pakistani tribal allies.

Some reports put the number of Pakistani troop deaths in the operation at over 100 and observers have called it a disaster for Musharraf who came to power in a military coup in 1999.

Mission claim

Pakistan's military on Saturday declared it had accomplished its mission in a 12-day bloody offensive against a major al-Qaida hideout, but stopped short of conceding that the operation was over.

Musharraf has said people should
not get excited about one tape

"We have achieved our target; we have destroyed and dismantled the terrorists' sanctuary," military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told AFP.
 
Sultan would not declare the operation over, but another senior army official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the operation would be wrapped up by Sunday at the latest.
 
"We will be winding up the operation today or most probably by Sunday," the official said.

Tape dismissed

On Friday, Musharraf dismissed an audio recording attributed to the senior al-Qaida figure Ayman al-Zawahri, which was first aired on Aljazeera earlier in the week.

The message urged Pakistan's Muslims to overthrow Musharraf, but the president said people should not get "excited" about "just one tape".

He said: "If he's taunting me, well, I would like to say that I am going to eliminate all of them".

"I mean, al-Zawahri is on the run. For heaven's sake, it's just one tape. Let's not get excited," he said.

The latest tribal belt offensive, comes after Musharraf narrowly escaped two assassination attempts in December.

Musharraf has blamed al-Qaida for both attempts on his life. On the second occasion, a bomber came close to the presidential motorcade.