Monday, October 08, 2007

Pakistan : 175 Militants, Soldiers Killed In 48 Hours Of Fierce Fighting

President Musharraf may well remain in control of Pakistan, following controversial elections last weekend, but the pressure on him from the United States to rein in militants in the Afghan border regions will only intensify.

The war in the tribal border regions is growing more deadly for Pakistan's military by the week, and speculation is now rife inside Pakistan's military that India may be fueling the fighting by feeding weapons and cash to militants via proxies inside Afghanistan.

The AFP is reporting that some 130 militants, and dozens of Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fighting near the Afghan border in the past two days :

The fighting raged throughout Sunday and Monday in the troubled tribal region of North Waziristan, which the United States has pinpointed as the new breeding ground for Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda extremist network.

The army said the pro-Taliban rebels were unusually well-trained and were getting support from Afghanistan, where the Taliban movement has waged a fierce insurgency since being toppled in late 2001.

The unrest puts extra pressure on key US ally Pervez Musharraf two days after he swept a presidential poll, the result of which the embattled military ruler must wait to have confirmed by the Supreme Court.

"The clashes broke out after militants set off IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and conducted ambushes on the security forces" on Sunday, top military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

"The forces retaliated and killed 130 militants in air strikes and ground attacks. Forty-five security personnel were also martyred."

Most of the fighting has been near Mir Ali, the second-biggest town in rugged North Waziristan, where Musharraf admitted earlier this year that Al-Qaeda had a presence.

Local residents said four civilians also died, including three women, although the army could not confirm this. Around 30 houses were destroyed or badly damaged as troops and rebels exchanged heavy weapons fire, they said.

Violence has spiked in the northwestern region since Pakistani security forces besieged and then raided the Al-Qaeda-linked Red Mosque in Islamabad in July -- an operation that bin Laden has urged militants to avenge.

The fighting was some of the bloodiest since Musharraf pushed tens of thousands of troops into the tribal zone to tackle militants who fled over the border into Pakistan after the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban regime.

Nearly 300 people in Pakistan have died in attacks since the Red Mosque crisis, most of which have been suicide bombings.

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