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Scores of Taliban militants killed in counterattack

Latest update : 2008-08-07

About 25 Taliban loyalists, among hundreds who attacked a military post near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan in a renewed bout of fighting, were killed along with a Pakistani soldier.

Hundreds of Taliban militants attacked a Pakistani security post in a tribal zone bordering Afghanistan, sparking fierce clashes in which 25 rebels and a soldier died, officials said Thursday.

Fighting erupted in the Bajaur tribal zone, a known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, when paramilitary forces reoccupied a checkpost which they had abandoned several months earlier, they said.

The operation comes amid growing US pressure for Pakistan's fledgling democratic government to crack down on Islamist fighters using the rugged region to launch cross-border attacks.

"At least 25 militants have died in the clashes in the Loisam area of Bajaur over the past 24 hours," a senior security official said on condition of anonymity.

An officer from the paramilitary Frontier Corps said 300 to 400 militants, backed by local sympathisers, participated in the attack on the post 15 kilometres (10 miles) west of Khar, the region's main town.

They were mostly armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and grenades, he said.

A paramilitary trooper was killed and two wounded in a remote-controlled bomb blast as a convoy moved towards Loisam, and 10 other soldiers were injured in the clashes, officials said.

A Taliban spokesman, Maulvi Omar, said militants killed 18 soldiers while only two Taliban fighters died.

"The fighting will continue until the troops are withdrawn from Loisam. We will respond with full might," Omar said in a telephone call to local reporters from an unknown location.

Helicopters pounded suspected militant positions on Thursday and fresh shelling resumed in the morning, security officials said. Markets and offices were closed in Khar and traffic was thin.

Some 200 paramilitary soldiers and dozens of tribal police have taken control of the post, security officials said, adding that they were equipped with tanks and heavy weapons.

Loisam lies on the strategically important road leading towards the main northwestern city of Peshawar.

Taliban militants had exercised complete control over Loisam since the withdrawal of troops earlier this year, using it as their main base for operations in the area, residents said.

A few weeks ago Taliban militants seized several government schools and converted them into Islamic seminaries, people living in the area said.

Pakistan has stepped up the fight against Islamic militants since Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani held talks with US President George W. Bush in Washington on July 29.

The military said it had killed 94 militants in the northwestern Swat Valley, a former tourist resort plagued by Taliban violence, earlier this month.

Date created : 2008-08-07