Pakistan forces kill militants at Afghan border

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The Independent Online

Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships struck a militant hide-out today in a tribal region near the Afghan border, killing about three dozen fighters, including a Chechen commander linked to al-Qa'ida, an army official said.

The Chechen - identified only by his code name, Imam - died when a helicopter fired on a vehicle he was fleeing in during the raid in the North Waziristan region, the army official said.

The official said about three dozen militants linked with al-Qa'ida also died in the assault.

President George Bush said today he will raise the issue of cross-border infiltration of militants in talks with Pakistani president.

"These infiltrations are causing harm to friends and allies and cause harm to U.S. troops. It will be a topic of conversation," he said ahead of his Saturday visit to Pakistan.

Militants frequently sneak across the long, rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, smuggling weapons and staging attacks on both sides.

Taliban fighters have stepped up violence in the past year inside Afghanistan, and the government of Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, has come under criticism from Kabul.

Some 21,000 US-led forces are hunting for al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants in the south and east of Afghanistan. Pakistan says it does not allow US troops to pursue them over the border onto Pakistani territory.

"My message to President Musharraf is that it's important that we bring these people to justice. He understands it and after all they tried to kill him four times," Bush told a news conference in the Afghan capital.