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2 Soldiers Slain in Pakistan

At least 25 insurgents are also killed as fighting continues in the North Waziristan tribal region.

March 05, 2006|Zulfiqar Ali | Special to The Times

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Fierce fighting erupted Saturday between security forces and pro-Taliban locals in Miram Shah, the administrative headquarters of the restive North Waziristan tribal region, Pakistani authorities said.

At least 25 insurgents and a soldier were killed in gun battles in Miram Shah, officials said. Private television channels, quoting unnamed government officials, said 100 pro-Taliban fighters had been killed.

The fighting came in the wake of the military's helicopter attack on a suspected militant compound near the border with Afghanistan on Wednesday that killed about 45 people.

Army officials said most of those slain Wednesday were foreign fighters, although locals denied that.

Insurgents who had taken over the town launched a rocket and missile attack on government buildings and military installations, resulting in the fierce gun battles with security forces, officials said.

In Mirali, about 12 miles east of Miram Shah, insurgents ambushed a military convoy, killing a soldier and wounding 10 others, officials said.

One senior official said the clashes Saturday started when troops moved to expel the militants from government buildings and the telephone exchange.

The fighters responded with the rocket and missile attack, the official said.

"It was a heavy attack," one security official said. He said that the militants had virtually taken over the regional headquarters.

Officials said that troops called in Cobra helicopters from the nearby military base and used artillery to repulse the militants, who were heading toward a paramilitary fort on the outskirts of Miram Shah.

Security forces also targeted and blew up Madrasa Gulshan-i-Uloom in Miram Shah, the hub of the militant activities and the base of a cleric who on Friday had declared a holy war against Pakistani forces.

It was unclear whether the cleric was inside the religious school during the explosion.

Locals said that families had already begun moving to safer locations in Mirali and Bannu earlier in the day in anticipation of troubles in the region, known as a hide-out for Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban fighters.

The attacks came during President Bush's visit to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, for a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf to highlight their cooperation in the fight against the Al Qaeda terrorist network and other Islamic militant groups.

An official said authorities planned to occupy Miram Shah's bazaar and have troops fan out to establish control.

Heavy fighting continued into the night in the town and surrounding areas.

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