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Pakistani forces kill up to 20 militants

Written by: Staff
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MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Mar 24 (Reuters) Pakistani security forces killed up to 20 militants in the restive tribal area of North Waziristan during a clash today, the military said.

The early morning fighting, which lasted around two hours, took place at a village about 45 km west of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan and the scene of fierce battles between security forces and militants in recent weeks.

''They attacked a checkpost with rocket fire and when we responded, the miscreants withdrew into the darkness,'' military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan told Reuters.

''We haven't found any dead bodies yet, but according to local sources they left behind 15 to 20 dead,'' said Sultan, adding that troops had recovered rocket launchers, Kalashnikovs and other automatic weapons abandoned by the fleeing militants.

Shaukat Sultan later told state television that one trooper had been killed and two wounded in the rocket attack.

An intelligence official said the security forces had used helicopter gunships and artillery in their counter-attack.

''We have no idea about the exact losses of the militants because it was totally dark. But we used Cobra helicopters and artillery in the fighting,'' he said on condition of anonymity.

However, there was no official confirmation of the involvement of helicopter gunships in the operation. It is unusual for Pakistan's military to use helicopters in the dark.

Around 200 tribesmen were killed in clashes with the army in North Waziristan earlier this month after they answered a call to arms by militant Muslim clerics following a special forces assault on an al Qaeda camp in the area bordering Afghanistan.

A large number of al Qaeda militants and their allies fled to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions after US-led forces ousted them from Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.

Yesterday President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, warned foreign militants hiding in the tribal region to leave Pakistan or face annihilation.

The security forces have captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda members over the past four years but Afghan officials often complain that Islamist militants, particularly Taliban fighters, use Pakistani soil to launch attacks inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stem cross-border movement of the militants and has urged Afghan forces to do more on their side of the long, porous border.

Reuters AD BD1911

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