MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships killed 18 pro-Taliban militants in intense fighting in a troubled tribal zone bordering Afghanistan on Tuesday, the army said.
Separately security officials told AFP the Islamic rebels abducted four soldiers in the rugged North Waziristan region, where the United States alleges that Al-Qaeda has created a safe haven to plan attacks against Western targets.
North Waziristan has seen a spike in violence since pro-Taliban rebels in the area scrapped a peace deal with the government on July 15, five days after the army stormed a radical mosque in the capital, leaving scores dead.
Fighting raged for six hours after an army patrol came under attack after signalling three vehicles to stop at the Banda checkpoint in the conflict-torn region, said chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad.
“Around 40 miscreants started firing at security forces and took positions in nearby hills, and security forces retaliated. Helicopter support was called in, there was a heavy exchange of fire,” said Arshad.
“Eighteen miscreants are dead and we have their bodies with us. Two were injured and they have been arrested,” he said, adding that two soldiers were also wounded.
Meanwhile the four soldiers were abducted at gunpoint while on the way from the garrison town of Bannu to the militant hotbed of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a senior security official said on condition of anonymity.
“Efforts are underway to recover them,” he said.
Earlier a roadside bomb wounded six paramilitary troops, two seriously, as they delivered food to colleagues on the perimeter of the neighbouring tribal district of South Waziristan, security officials said.
Troops also traded gunfire overnight with militants in North Waziristan after rebels launched rockets at government and army buildings, officials said. There were no immediate reports of casualties from that engagement.
One rocket damaged a government-run student hostel in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, while two landed on the lawns of the town’s main military base, local security officials said.
Seven people, including three soldiers, were killed in violence in North Waziristan on Monday.
Pakistan has been battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in its rugged tribal belt since hundreds of the rebels fled Afghanistan after the fall of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.
US-led forces toppled the Taliban over accusations that it had harboured Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 suicide airliner attacks on New York and Washington.
The United States, Islamabad’s key ally, has branded Pakistan’s tribal belt the new hideout of bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda movement, a charge that Pakistani officials deny.