"The forces retaliated and killed 130 militants in air strikes and ground attacks," he said, adding that 45 security personnel were also killed.
 
The clashes took place near the town of Mir Ali.

'Civilians killed'

Local residents said that four civilians, including three women, had also been killed in the fighting, but there was no independent confirmation of this.

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Around 30 houses were destroyed or badly damaged as the two sides exchanged heavy weapons fire, witnesses said.
 
The military, earlier, had reported that 50 soldiers had gone missing in the area during the clashes, but Arshad said contact had been established with around 30 soldiers.
 
"They are back at their positions and efforts were under way to locate other soldiers," he said.
 
Many Taliban and al-Qaeda members who fled to the region after US-led forces drove them out of Afghanistan in late 2001 have found support in the tribal areas.

"The army is fighting well-trained militants. There are linkages with Afghanistan. Many of them are getting money and weapons from across the border," Arshad said.
 
Peace deal scrapped

There has been a rise in fighting since July when tribal groups in the semi-autonomous region scrapped a peace deal with under which they would have taken greater responsibility for security in return for a withdrawal of Pakistani government forces.

Nearly 300 people have been killed in attacks, mostly suicide bombings, since army commandos stormed a mosque and religious school in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, the same month.

In neighbouring South Waziristan, pro-Taliban fighters have been holding more than 200 Pakistani soldiers since capturing them in late August. They are demanding an end to all military operations in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
 
Pervez Musharraf, the president who is waiting for the supreme court to rule on the legality of his controversial re-election on Saturday, has said "terrorism" is one of the biggest challenges to the country.
 
But the conflict has reinforced opposition among many Pakistanis, mainly in the conservative northwest, to Musharraf over his support for the US's so-called "war on terror".