Pakistan army and Taliban claim 'victories' in clashes

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The Independent Online

Pakistani troops and the Taliban fought fierce battles yesterday in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan near the Afghan border, with both sides claiming early victories.

A Taliban spokesman vowed they would fight to "our last drop of blood" to defend their heartland, where al-Qa'ida fighters are sheltering. The army said 60 militants and six soldiers had been killed since the offensive began on Saturday in the mountainous, remote region held by some 10,000 Pakistani militants and about 1,500 foreign fighters that the army has tried and failed to wrest from near-total insurgent control three times since 2004. The Taliban claimed to have inflicted "heavy casualties".

It was not possible to verify the claims because the army is blocking access to the battlefield and surrounding towns. Two weeks ago, after the Taliban realised a military offensive was imminent, they unleashed a torrent of deadly attacks around the country, including a 22-hour siege of army headquarters last weekend.

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