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Pakistan forces kill 45 militants on Afghan border

Written by: Staff
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MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Mar 1 (Reuters) Pakistani helicopter gunships and ground forces killed around 45 mostly foreign fighters in an attack on a militant hideout near the Afghan border on Wednesday, the military said in a statement.

The assault on Danda Saidgai, a village about 15 km (10 miles) north of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal region, began soon after daybreak.

But talk of casualties among villagers prompted tribesmen to take up arms against the military, and rocket fire was heard in Miranshah late into the night. ''More than 45 militants, mostly foreigners along with their local facilitators are assessed to have been killed,'' the Pakistan military statement said.

The leader of the group, believed to have been a Chechen, was killed along with several others trying to flee the area after the strike, it added.

US and Afghan forces along the border are regularly harried by Taliban insurgents, Central Asian Islamist militants and al Qaeda remnants. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be hiding somewhere in Pakistan.

The latest Pakistani military operation came hours before US President George W. Bush made a stop in Afghanistan at the start of trip that will also take him to India and Pakistan.

Bush told a news conference in Kabul he planned to raise the issue of militants using Pakistan as a base when he meets President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, in a visit otherwise seen as a gesture of support for the Pakistani general.

''These infiltrations are causing harm to friends and allies and cause harm to U.S. troops,'' Bush said.

VILLAGERS PLAY DEAD Officials said the operation was launched after the army received intelligence from the Afghan side of the border that a party of militants had returned to Pakistani territory.

Helicopter gunships struck first and ground troops then closed in on the hideout close to the border. An ammunition dump was also hit and explosions could be heard in Miranshah.

MORE REUTERS DH RAI0047

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