Dozens killed in Pakistan battle

Army says several tribal fighters killed in clashes in tense border region.

    Pakistan's military battled opposition fighters while searching for four hijacked trucks [AFP]
    Pakistani troops launched a "search and cordon" operation in Dara Adam Khel to find four trucks containing munitions and supplies, the army said.

     

    Helicopter gunships were used in the operation to recover the lorries, which had been seized by fighters a day earlier.

    Stronghold searched

    A spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban - an armed coalition led by Baitullah Mehsud, who is linked to al-Qaeda - dismissed the claim that 30 fighters were killed in Dara Adam Khel.

    Major General Athar Abbas, chief military spokesman, said skirmishes were continuing in the region including near a tunnel leading from Peshawar to the northwestern city of Kohat.

    Security officials said Dara Adam Khel had recently become a stronghold of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Sunni Muslim group which has links to al-Qaeda.

    Seperately, troops on Friday continued to search the South Waziristan region, around Mehsud's hideout, officials said.

    Mehsud is accused by Pakistani officials and the US Central Intelligence Agency of orchestrating the killing of Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, last month.

    "A house-to-house search operation is underway in the areas where the security forces have consolidated their positions," Abbas said.

    US role

    More than 200 fighters and 30 soldiers are said to have died during three weeks of fighting in South Waziristan.

    Pakistan has been hit by more than 50 suicide bombings in the past 12 months, killing at least 800 people.

    The government has blamed most of the attacks on Mehsud's network.

    Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said on Thursday that the United States is "ready, willing and able" to conduct joint combat operations in the troubled region if Islamabad agrees.

    However, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has dismissed all talk of combined offensives with US forces in Pakistani territory.

    Pakistan's Western allies are increasingly concerned about the situation in the nuclear-armed Islamic republic since Bhutto's killing.

    Musharraf has come under international pressure to take a tough line on al-Qaeda and Taliban-inspired fighters.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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