About 30 militants killed in fresh clashes in Pakistan (Lead)

September 14th, 2008 - 1:12 am ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Sep 13 (DPA) Pakistani troops Saturday killed up to 30 Islamic militants in fresh clashes with Taliban extremists along the Afghan border, a security official said.Helicopter gunships and artillery fire pounded militants’ positions in the Inayat Kaley, Rashkai, and Loi Sum areas of Bajaur district, a known sanctuary of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants launching crossborder raids on international forces in Afghanistan.

“Between 25 and 30 miscreants have died and numerous were injured in the operation during which several militants’ hideouts were destroyed,” said a local security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Army spokesman Major Murad Khan confirmed that the militant’s positions were targeted but their losses had yet to be ascertained.

“Intense exchanges of fire took place throughout the day between security forces and miscreants, but security forces consolidated their hold over the areas during the operation,” he said.

“Miscreants’ locations were engaged using air, artillery and combat aviation inflicting heavy casualties on them,” Murad added. He however did not say if there were any security force casualties.

Thousands of troops launched a major offensive in the district to clear the area of the rebels who had surrounded the district headquarters Khar.

According to official figures around 700 militants had so far been killed while the death toll on the side of government forces has reached dozens.

But the conflict has also caused a large number of civilian casualties - seldom reported as few journalists remain in the area - and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee to safer areas.

The fresh clashes came as Pakistan is under intensive pressure from Washington to carry out an all-out operation in the tribal areas.

Complaining about Pakistan’s inability to control militancy, the US has recently increased missile strikes mostly carried out by drones in border areas, including the latest on Friday that killed 12 people in North Waziristan.

This has strained Washington-Islamabad relations and stirred anger in Pakistan, which has vowed to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity at “all costs.”

There have been enraged calls to abandon the US alliance against terrorism and to use of force to stop US incursions, but Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Friday ruled out retaliatory action against the US saying the government would instead use negotiations to resolve the issue.

“We can take up the issue of these attacks at the diplomatic level but we cannot go to war,” he told reporters. “We will convince both the US and Britain to respect our sovereignty.”

Gilani said Pakistan was capable of dealing effectively with terrorists and militants on its soil.

“If anyone has credible, actionable and reliable intelligence about terrorists, it should be shared with us so that we can take action. If any step is taken to build our capacity we will welcome it,” he added.

Furore however continues to build within Pakistan, as dozens of tribal elders in a press conference in the North Waziristan capital Miranshah threatened to raise an army of tribesmen and launch attacks on US military installments in Kabul Bagram and Kandahar.

Pakistani media has also warned the US that its attacks in Pakistan would have negative consequences.

The new US policy would make Islamabad “more vulnerable to (the international terrorist network) Al Qaeda and we will face unpredictable odds,” the English-language Daily Times said in an editorial, suggesting that US attacks could trigger a takeover of nuclear-armed Pakistan by Al Qaeda sympathisers.

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