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Pakistani troops leave Taliban area

After days of clashes and with eight soldiers dead, the army halts the campaign in the Bajaur tribal area.

August 10, 2008|Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King | Special to The Times

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — Pakistani security forces pulled out of a Taliban stronghold near the border with Afghanistan after three days of fierce fighting that left at least eight troops dead and dozens missing, local and military officials said Saturday.

The confrontation came against a backdrop of renewed political turmoil in Pakistan. The government announced Thursday that it would seek to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, who first came to power in a military coup. Parliament is scheduled to convene Monday, but the impeachment process against Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, could take weeks.

The fighting in the tribal region of Bajaur was the most serious combat of its kind in the area, with government forces using tanks, fighter jets and attack helicopters to try to subdue the militants. Local sources said the insurgents had captured at least two armored vehicles and large caches of ammunition.

The confrontation took place outside Khar, the main regional town in the Bajaur region. Witnesses said the area was littered with bodies and burned vehicles.

Pakistani authorities said they believed the militants had suffered heavy casualties, but did not provide an estimate.

A spokesman for Pakistan's Taliban movement said that as many as 100 Pakistani paramilitary troops had been killed and about three dozen captured. Pakistani officials acknowledged that 55 troops were missing.

The fighting erupted four days ago when security forces moved into the area. At one point, about 200 soldiers were surrounded by the militants and cut off from their supply lines.

At the same time, insurgents in the Swat Valley, about 100 miles north of the capital, Islamabad, targeted security forces in an adjacent district. Swat lies outside the tribal areas, in North-West Frontier Province, but has seen on-and-off fighting for months, despite a truce in May between the government and a local militant commander.

Insurgents stormed a police post late Friday in the Buner district, bordering Swat, and killed eight police officers. Dozens of militants reportedly took part in the attack, some approaching the police post disguised as women in all-enveloping burkas.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and staff writer King from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

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