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Pak uses gunships against militants in tribal areas

June 12, 2004 15:24 IST

The Pakistan Army bombarded suspected militant hideouts with helicopter gunships in tribal areas near the Afghan border, killing five Al Qaeda militants while losing an equal number of soldiers on the third day of the fighting which has so far left 60 people dead.

Fierce fighting raged in the Shakar area of the South Waziristan tribal agency yesterday as Pakistani troops advanced to the hideouts of foreign militants, reports reaching Islamabad said.

Also See: Reports from Pakistan

Five more Pakistani troops were killed in yesterday's fighting, bringing the toll to 20 in the Army's side, the Pakistani daily Statesman, published from Peshawar, said.

It said five more militants were killed yesterday in addition to the 35 in the first two days of the fighting.

Reports quoted eye-witnesses as saying that four fighter jets of the Pakistan Air Force also bombed the hideouts of the
militants in Shakai yesterday.

The jets continued to hit the targets for 30 minutes after which 26 helicopter gunships were pressed into action. Some of the helicopters dropped army commandoes to secure the area and flush out the militants, another daily, The News, said.

Last night, Pakistan Defence spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan, who has now been made press secretary to President Pervez Musharraf, said airpower was used against the militant hideouts, but declined to admit fighter jets were pressed into action to bomb the targets.

The warplanes also bombed the homes of two local tribesmen, Dawar Khan and Eida Khan, who were accused of
sheltering the foreigners, reports said.

The two tribesmen -- who were on the government's list of wanted tribesmen -- were earlier served notices to stop giving refuge to foreigners staying on illegally.

The overflying choppers allowed the ground troops to make advances and reach the centre of Shakai by late afternoon.

Some reports said about 40 thatched houses used by the militants, including Uzbeks, Chechens, Afghans and Arabs, were attacked by the warplanes. Earlier, the Army fired artillery shells against the same targets.

Subsequent reports said the troops were now moving to the targeted area to occupy the mountain villages where the
militants were believed to be based.

In another development, Nek Mohammad, a tribal leader who acted as commander in the past for the Taliban in Afghanistan, in an interview to BBC threatened to launch attacks in Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar in case the Army attacked his group in South Waziristan.

Already Pakistan security officials speculate that the recent violence in Karachi, including the attack on the corps
commander of the Pakistan army two days ago, was a reaction to the Army's operations to flush out militants from the tribal areas.

Nek Mohammad was recently granted amnesty along with his associates after an agreement that he would help the Army to get the foreign militants to surrender. However, he denied the deal and reportedly joined the ranks of militants to fight against the government.

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