Clashes between troops and militants leave dozens dead

Pakistani military sources said overnight gun battles between government forces and Islamist militants, most of whom came from Afghanistan, left six troopers and 40 militants dead in the Mohmand border area.


AFP - Hundreds of foreign militants attacked Pakistani forces near the border with Afghanistan, sparking clashes that left six soldiers and 40 militants dead, military officials said Sunday.

The fighting took place late Saturday in the lawless Mohmand tribal area in northwest Pakistan, a hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda activity, officials from the paramilitary Frontier Corps told AFP.

Most of the attackers came from the Afghan side of the border, and were joined by local Taliban fighters. The combined force of about 600 militants then attacked a paramilitary fort near the border, the officials said.

The attack sparked fierce gun battles that lasted for several hours, a security official told AFP, adding that most of the attackers eventually fled the scene.

Seven soldiers were wounded in the clashes, the military said.

"Frontier Corps troops repulsed a massive attack by militants on one of its locations in the area," the military said in a statement.

The statement said "severe fighting continued through the night" at the fort at Mamad Gate, where members of Pakistan's elite Quick Reaction Force were stationed.

Paramilitary troops "inflicted heavy casualties" on the militants, said a military spokesman who asked not to be named.

Some of the militants surrendered, he added, without giving an exact figure.

Sporadic gun battles continued on Sunday, as "pockets of resistance" remained, the spokesman said.

Islamabad and Kabul have been unable to rein in the extremists that have been holed up in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas since they fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion that drove out the Taliban government in late 2001.

The rugged border belt is a key battleground in the US-led "war on terror," with Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants operating bases in Pakistan from which they are said to send fighters to attack NATO and US forces in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said during a visit to Kabul by his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari that the two countries had a "new relationship" and determination to defeat terrorism and extremism.

Karzai had previously accused Islamabad of not doing enough to shut down militant "sanctuaries" in the tribal badlands and stop insurgents from crossing into Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejected those accusations, pointing to its operation against militants in the Bajaur region, which borders Mohmand and Afghanistan. The military says more than 1,500 rebels have been killed there since August.

Pakistan late last month mounted a major offensive in the Khyber tribal area south of Mohmand to clear militants from the area along a key highway used by trucks ferrying supplies to NATO and US-led troops in Afghanistan.

The highway has since been reopened during daytime hours.

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