MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) -Pakistani troops killed 19 militants in clashes near the Afghan border, officials said, a day after the US president fully backed Islamabad’s efforts to combat extremism.
Six rebels died in a gunbattle Sunday after they ambushed a troop convoy with a roadside bomb in the tribal agency of North Waziristan, where fighting continued with helicopter gunships, the army said.
Troops also killed 13 pro-Taliban fighters in overnight clashes after the rebels attacked several military checkpoints in the lawless region, where authorities were simultaneously trying to revive a 10-month-old peace deal.
Fighting in the rugged border lands has intensified amid a wave of Islamist bloodshed that has killed more than 200 people nationwide, sparked by the army’s storming of the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad earlier this month.
US President George W. Bush in his weekly radio address Saturday linked the US global campaign against Al-Qaeda to Pakistan’s efforts to quell Islamist violence, including the deadly storming of the pro-Taliban mosque.
Bush expressed full US support for embattled Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s efforts “to rid all of Pakistan of extremism” including an Al-Qaeda “safe haven” in western tribal areas.
In the first attack on Saturday night in North Waziristan, chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said four “miscreants” were killed when they attacked a checkpoint and security forces returned fire.
“After some time they attacked five other security posts in the area and nine other militants were killed,” Arshad told AFP. “The miscreants have fled with the bodies, but security forces have arrested seven people.”
In another attack Sunday, seven soldiers were wounded when a roadside improvised explosive device hit their convoy as it passed Qutab Khel village, six kilometres (four miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
Just after the blast militants fired on troops from nearby hills and the soldiers returned fire in a clash that was ongoing, the official said.
Security forces are using artillery, he said. Helicopter gunships were also taking part in the clash, local sources said.
Authorities on Sunday also found the body of a pro-government tribal elder dumped, along with his severed head, by a road in the neighbouring tribal district of South Waziristan, security officials said.
Amid the violence, a delegation of elders and religious leaders drawn from Pakistan’s seven tribal districts bordering Afghanistan on Sunday continued negotiations over the collapsed peace accord in North Waziristan.
The deal, signed in September, was heavily criticised by Washington and Kabul. Militants tore it up a week ago amid complaints about new checkpoints in the area and a lack of compensation for damage in previous army operations.
Bush in his radio address backed the military action and insisted that Musharraf had recognised that the September 2006 deal with tribal chiefs to police their own region had failed and that he was “taking active steps to correct it.”
“Earlier this month, he sent in Pakistani forces to go after radicals who seized control of a mosque, and then he delivered a speech vowing to rid all of Pakistan of extremism,” the US president said.
“Pakistani forces are in the fight, and many have given their lives,” he said. “The United States supports them in these efforts. And we will work with our partners to deny safe haven to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan — or anywhere else in the world.”