Sixteen troops were killed, 22 injured and 12 went missing when a paramilitary unit was surprised on 16 March, the first day of the ongoing battle, by a fierce onslaught from scores of well-armed fighters, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said.

  

Another four soldiers were missing during the full-scale offensive launched two days later against Kalushah and Shin Warzak villages, near the South Waziristan district capital of Wana, a senior security official said on Tuesday.

  

Another 17 soldiers were killed in three separate attacks elsewhere in the wild north-western tribal zone in an apparent spread of resistance to the army's stepped-up hunt for al-Qaida members, the official said on condition of anonymity.

  

Heavy weaponry

 

In one attack a major and a soldier were killed in North Waziristan before dawn on Thursday when attackers fired heavy weaponry and rockets on an army camp, the official said.

  

Another 12 troops were killed when their convoy was ambushed on Monday about 30km from the scene of the assault, the official said.

  

Three more died when their base in the town of Parachinar, 150km north-east of Wana, was attacked with rockets at dawn on Tuesday, he said.

  

The military refused to reveal how many troops had been killed since the full-scale offensive was launched.

  

Western diplomats said they believed the military toll was between 60 and 100.

  

At least 15 civilians and 31 al-Qaida-linked fighters have died in the week-long operation.