WANA, Pakistan (CNN) — Pakistani forces have captured about 100 fighters — possibly members of al Qaeda — in a fierce battle in the country’s mountainous border region, military officials said.
However, a Pakistani brigade commander has cast doubt on whether al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was being protected by fighters, as Pakistani officials suggested earlier.
He said it was possible al-Zawahiri was being protected, but he said al Qaeda forces could be fighting a pitched battle to protect a local criminal or gangster, who possibly escaped.
Pakistan’s military brought journalists to Wana in southern Waziristan near the Afghan border, about six miles from the front lines of the ongoing battle with the fighters.
The military showed the journalists about 30 of the 100 captured fighters, who were in the back of a truck and blindfolded.
Officials said the fighters will be questioned to determine their nationalities and affiliations. They could be Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens or members of local tribes, military officials said.
They said Pakistani forces cleared about eight compounds and detained the 100 fighters in those sweeps.
The fighting has raged for several days in northwestern Pakistan, and government sources said the their troops have suffered significant casualties.