IHT : As clashes intensify in Pakistan, 200 are killed in 3 days

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

As clashes intensify in Pakistan, 200 are killed in 3 days

The Associated Press | October 9, 2007

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan: Three days of fierce fighting between Islamic militants and security forces near the Afghan border have killed nearly 200 people, the army said Tuesday. The clashes have been some of the most deadly on Pakistani soil since Pakistan threw its support behind the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2001.

The bodies of dozens of soldiers, many with their throats slit, have been recovered from deserted areas of North Waziristan, residents fleeing the clashes said. There were also reports of villagers killed in artillery and jet fighter strikes on militant targets.

The fighting in North Waziristan comes as General Pervez Musharraf tries to secure another term as president, vowing to shore up Pakistan's troubled effort against Islamic extremism.

But his troops are suffering rising losses as they try to reassert authority in a swath of mountainous territory where warlords supportive of the Taliban and Al Qaeda have seized control.

Battles in North Waziristan have killed 150 fighters and 45 soldiers since Saturday, an army statement said. It added that between 12 and 15 troops were missing. Another 50 militants and 20 soldiers had been wounded.

Security forces have rejected a cease-fire proposed by the militants and will "continue punitive action till complete peace is restored" in the area, it said.

Pakistan struck a controversial cease-fire deal with militants in North Waziristan last year. U.S. officials criticized the pact, claiming it gave a safe haven for Al Qaeda and provided a rear base for Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In July, the Pakistan Army redeployed troops at key checkpoints in the region, sparking fresh hostilities.

A local intelligence official said the latest fighting started Saturday when a roadside bombing killed one paramilitary soldier and wounded 12 traveling in a truck.

When five vehicles of army troops went to the bomb site Sunday to retrieve the truck, about 300 militants ambushed them, killing 22 troops and wounding 11. Others were captured alive and could be still held by militants, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

One resident of Isu Khel village said that three soldiers came to his home asking for protection but he refused, fearing he might be targeted by militants. The three soldiers later escaped in a military truck, said the villager, speaking after fleeing to the region's main town, Miran Shah.