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Pakistani Forces Raid Al Qaeda Hide-Out

June 27, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Acting on a tip from the United States, Pakistani forces staged a nighttime raid on an Al Qaeda hide-out in a remote village near the border with Afghanistan, touching off a four-hour gun battle that killed 10 Pakistani soldiers and at least two suspected members of the terrorist network, Pakistani officials said Wednesday.

A 15-year-old foreign boy was captured after the battle, which began late Tuesday near the border town of Wana, Pakistani officials said. However, most of the fighters, believed to be Chechens, escaped in the darkness early Wednesday, military and police officials said.

The combat deaths were the first suffered by Pakistani forces charged with flushing out foreign fighters from the rugged, lawless region. Senior Pakistani officers and analysts predicted that the gunfight would stiffen the resolve of the Pakistani military, which U.S. officials earlier this year had to coax into patrolling the remote border region.

Pakistani army officials estimated that 40 to 45 Al Qaeda fighters were still hiding in the area, said Pakistani officers reached by telephone in Wana, a tribal area south of the Afghan town of Khowst whose leaders have been sympathetic to the Taliban.

"The situation is very tense and most people have closed their shops because of the ongoing search operation in the area," said a Wana resident, Mohammed Farooq. He said hundreds of troops were swarming the area looking for Al Qaeda fighters.

Senior American officers in recent weeks had urged Pakistan to search out Al Qaeda fugitives who U.S. intelligence indicated were concentrated near Wana.

U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives have been working with Pakistani forces in searching for Al Qaeda fighters believed to have taken refuge on the Pakistani side of the border. But Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Washington that U.S. troops did not participate in the latest battle.

"While U.S. forces were not involved ... we appreciate the Pakistan army's efforts to locate the Al Qaeda" fighters, he said.

An Interior Ministry official said Pakistani troops found uniforms, a mortar shell and Al Qaeda papers in the house targeted in the raid.

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