Pakistani army in new border offensive

Six rebels and two soldiers have been killed during a Pakistani army operation near the Afghan border, according to security officials.

    The Waziristan region is not fully under government control

    An artillery barrage supported by attack helicopters began

    at first light on Tuesday to the east of the town of Wana, in Pakistan's

    lawless South Waziristan tribal area, where security forces

    have been battling rebels since March.

    "There have been reports that militants, including

    foreigners, have scattered, and this operation is to look for

    them," said a security official.

    The offensive was launched as US Deputy Secretary of

    State Richard Armitage was in Islamabad for talks with

    President Pervez Musharraf and other officials on a range of

    issues, including the US-led "war on terror".

    Pakistan says several hundred foreign fighters, including

    Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, supported by Pakistani tribal

    allies, are operating in South Waziristan, and has vowed to

    remove them.

    Residents in the area, 400km southwest of the

    capital, Islamabad, said they could hear artillery and

    helicopters in action.

    Hundreds killed

    "So far six miscreants have been killed and the security

    forces have lost two soldiers and a few more have been

    injured," said military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan.

    "The operation is going on."

    Abd Allah Masud is wanted by
    Pakistani authorities

    One resident said government forces appeared to be

    concentrating their attack along a road in the Spinkai Raghzai

    region, a stronghold of Abd Allah Masud, a Pakistani fighter

    whose men kidnapped two Chinese engineers last month.

    One of the Chinese men was killed in a rescue attempt, the

    other was freed.

    Masud is a former inmate of the US

    military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Hundreds of people - rebels, Pakistani troops and

    civilians - have been killed since the government began its

    campaign to clear South Waziristan in March.

    US officials believe al-Qaida chief Usama bin Ladin and

    other senior al-Qaida figures are likely to be hiding in

    Pakistan's remote border areas. Pakistani officials say they do

    not know their whereabouts.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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