ISLAMABAD, Oct 7 (Reuters) Pakistani soldiers backed by helicopter gunships killed 20 pro-Taliban militants in an attack today in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, a military spokesman said.
The army attack came hours after staunch US ally President Pervez Musharraf swept the most votes in a presidential election.
''The operation is still on. Militants hold positions in the mountains and we're targeting them with artillery and helicopter gunships,'' said military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad.
Twenty militants had been killed and 15 wounded, he said.
Arshad said the attack was launched after militants ambushed a military convoy near Mir Ali town, 24 km east of the region's main town of Miranshah town yesterday evening.
Residents of the area had said earlier they had seen a military build-up, apparently in preparation for an offensive against the al Qaeda-linked militants.
Pakistan has seen a wave of violence since July, when a peace pact with militants broke down in North Waziristan and army commandos stormed a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad.
The violence has reinforced opposition among many Pakistanis to Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism.
Musharraf has said terrorism and extremism are the biggest challenges the country faces and has called for reconciliation among political parties to tackle it.
Waziristan is a hotbed of support for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, who fled to the region after US-led forces drove them out of Afghanistan in late 2001.
Militants in neighbouring South Waziristan are still holding about 225 soldiers captured at the end of August.
REUTERS PD BD1214