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Pakistan Attacks Tribal Area to Drive Out Militants

Five soldiers have died in the clashes that started Thursday in the lawless region. 'We are facing quite a resistance,' an army spokesman says.

October 02, 2005|From Times Wire Services

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan — Government forces backed by helicopter gunships attacked suspected militant hide-outs in mountains near the Afghan border for the third day Saturday, security officials said.

Pakistan has been trying to drive out militants, many of them suspected of being linked to Al Qaeda, from the nation's lawless tribal areas since last year. Hundreds of militants and Pakistani soldiers have been killed in clashes.

A military spokesman said five Pakistani troops had been killed since the latest fighting began Thursday. The militants were believed to have suffered casualties but the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, said he had no information on the number.

"Fighting is still going on and we are facing quite a resistance from the other side," Sultan said. "We are pursuing them."

Pakistani forces began the offensive against the suspected hide-outs in the North Waziristan tribal region, about 250 miles southwest of Islamabad, on Thursday after a clash with militants.

Residents said they had heard that at least 25 tribesmen and militants had been killed. The dead included five foreigners, some residents said.

Pakistani aircraft dropped pamphlets in North Waziristan urging people to help security forces fight "misguided elements who are disrupting peace."

The military Saturday called on the rebels to surrender, but they continued firing, residents said.

"The army is asking militants to put down their arms. They are using loudspeakers," said a resident of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

In a speech Saturday, President Pervez Musharraf said religious extremists "must be defeated militarily and socially," the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

"The conflict involved is not one of religion. It simply is one of progress, emancipation versus backwardness and dogmatism," he said.

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