KHAR, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan security forces battled militants close to the Afghan border Friday in fighting that has killed 44 suspected insurgents over the last three days, a government official said.
There was no independent confirmation of the fighting or the identities of the dead in Bajur, a tribal region where al-Qaida and Taliban have long had a presence. The Pakistan army launched a major operation in Bajur against the militants in 2008 that it claimed had cleared the area of militants, but clashes have continued since then.
Abdul Kabir, the top-ranking official in Bajur, said several troops had been injured in the fighting in the Slarzai area. He said the clashes began Wednesday when troops began helping a council of tribal elders in evicting Taliban from the area. He said 21 militants were killed Friday, following 23 killed in the two preceding days.
Pakistan has launched a series of offensives against militants in the tribal areas, pushing them back in some areas. But Western countries want the army to continue pressing the fight because Taliban fighters in Afghanistan use the region as base from which to attack NATO and U.S. forces.
Also Friday in the northwest, a bomb destroyed a truck carrying oil to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
No one was wounded in the attack on the supply truck in the fabled Khyber Pass, government official Javed Khan said.
A large portion of non-lethal supplies for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan.
Militants occasionally attack the trucks, but the strikes have had little impact on operations in Afghanistan. In the southwest, gunmen killed three Shiite Muslims on their way to visit holy sites in Iraq in an apparent sectarian attack.
Local police official Mohammad Ayaz said the group of travelers had come to Quetta city from the southern city of Karachi, and had hoped to travel across Iran to Iraq. The group was waiting in a bus Friday afternoon when the gunmen appeared on motorbikes and opened fire.
Two men and one woman were killed, while three other people were wounded, Ayaz said.
Police did not accuse any particular militant group Friday, but Quetta has in the past witnessed violence against Shiite Muslims. The attacks are often blamed on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Pakistan is a Sunni-majority country, and most of its Shiite and Sunni residents live in harmony. However, extremists from both sects occasionally target one another’s leaders.