50 troops reported missing after clashes in Pakistan

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Up to 50 Pakistani troops were missing amid fierce fighting yesterday with pro-Taliban militants near the Afghan border that has already left scores dead, the army said.

The troops disappeared after militants attacked security posts and a foot patrol near the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan region, an army statement said.

The fighting comes as General Pervez Musharraf tries to secure another term as president vowing to shore up Pakistan's troubled effort against Islamic extremism.

It also coincides with a change of command in the Pakistani army, which is suffering heavy losses in an escalating confrontation with militants who have seized control of swaths of territory near the frontier.

The army said earlier that about 60 suspected militants and 20 soldiers had died in two major clashes in North Waziristan on Sunday.

A security official in Miran Shah, the region's main town, said army helicopters and jets bombarded militant positions in several villages in the region.

He said informers had told security forces that two Arabs who were low-ranking al-Qaida men and an Uzbek died in the second battle in an area called Malagam.

About a dozen civilians, including women and children, died when a stray mortar struck their home in Mir Ali, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. It was unclear who fired the mortar.

Asked about reported civilian deaths on Geo television on Monday, army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said security forces had fired only at targets from which they were being attacked.