(REUTERS) The Pakistani army fired mortar bombs and artillery shells at suspected mountain hideouts of al Qaeda-linked militants in a remote tribal region on Friday, but there were no details of casualties, witnesses said.
Militants fired two rockets at a camp used by security forces early on Friday near Wana, 250 miles southwest of the capital Islamabad, they said. But the missiles landed near the camp’s perimeter and caused no damage.
Pakistani forces retaliated with heavy artillery and mortar fire at nearby mountains, one resident said. Two civilians sustained minor injuries, he added.
Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said the militants, who have been locked in a standoff with security forces since March, had taken a soldier hostage, but he declined to provide further details.
Pakistan says hundreds of foreign militants, most of them Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, are hiding in South Waziristan close to the border with Afghanistan.
The militants enjoy a committed following among local tribesmen, who are supporting them despite a major crackdown by security forces.
U.S. military officials believe al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, may be hiding somewhere along the rugged Afghan-Pakistan frontier.
Pakistan says it has killed more than 150 militants in the last year, and arrested many more.
Last week, at least 50 militants, most of them foreigners, were killed when Pakistani jet fighters and helicopter gunships bombed a suspected terrorist training camp in the region.
Another 10 fighters were killed in clashes the same day in one of the bloodiest assaults on al Qaeda-linked militants since Pakistan sent tens of thousands of troops into lawless tribal areas last year.
Sultan said security forces had found a large cache of arms and ammunition including rockets and rocket launchers as well as trenches and bunkers at the house of a tribal cleric, Mohammad Shafeeq Mahsud, which had been used by militants as a hideout.
Mahsud’s house was demolished by troops on Tuesday after a firefight with militants in Makeen, about 30 miles north of Wana.
Soldiers had also suffered “certain” casualties in the latest fighting, Sultan said, adding “they are not in double digits.”