Major-General Shaukat Sultan told Reuters: "The operation was successful. It is now over. We have confirmed reports that a few foreign militants were killed in the compound, but details are still coming."

The military used Cobra helicopter gunships in Wednesday's attack on the hideout in a village called Nagar, 6km south of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

The Pakistan army has been fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas in the region.

The attack occurred at around 11.15pm (1815 GMT), and the helicopters were ordered into the air after the military received information about the presence of foreign fighters, Sultan said.

The army launched a campaign to
rid Waziristan of militants

A military campaign to rid the tribal areas of al-Qaeda had switched to North Waziristan from South Waziristan last year, and there have been a series of fierce clashes in the past month.

The army has used artillery and helicopter gunships to quell pro-Taliban tribals and around 250 people have been killed since early March.

Foreign fighters

Violence escalated after Pakistani Special Forces blasted an al-Qaeda base used by Chechen, Afghan and Central Asian militants, but tribesmen said innocent villagers were also killed.

Last week, the army said it killed at least 40 militants in a counter-offensive after four troopers were killed in a rocket attack n their post in the Shawal area of North Waziristan.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are said to be hiding in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt after US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

Last month, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president and a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, warned foreign militants hiding in the tribal region to leave Pakistan or face annihilation.