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Pakistani Jets Bomb Militants in Border Clash


Pakistani jets have bombed Islamic militants near the border with Afghanistan bringing a four-day death toll to 250 people killed in fierce battles. Pakistan has been struggling to control resurging militancy in its volatile tribal areas where the Taleban and al Qaida have a strong base of support. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

In a rare use of heavy firepower, Pakistani jets targeted Islamic militants Tuesday in their hideouts in North Waziristan near the Afghan border.

About 50 people were killed during the battle. Security officials say since fighting between the two sides broke out Saturday about 200 militants and 45 soldiers have been killed.

Dozens of civilians are said to be among the casualties and thousands of villagers have fled the area since the fighting began.

Major General Wahid Arshad is Pakistan's military spokesman. He told Pakistan's Dawn Television Tuesday night he could not confirm the reports of civilian casualties but said there were a number of civilians fleeing the area.

"There could be collateral damage of course," he said. "Although, I have not got any confirmed reports about that. But, a lot of people have left that place."

Arshad said the fighting began when militants ambushed security forces Saturday, forcing them to retaliate.

The fighting between Pakistani security forces and Islamic militants is some of the fiercest since Pakistan made moves to reign in Islamic radicals in 2001 when it partnered with the United States against extremists.

The volatile tribal region bordering Afghanistan is a Taleban and al-Qaida stronghold with many sympathetic locals. The Pakistani military has been struggling to control the militants.

Arshad, however, says the military is fully capable of handling the situation.

"As far as the security forces are concerned it's very clear that we'll make sure that these militants are either caught or they're given up by their people," said Arshad.

Militants use the porous border area to launch attacks into Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, and al-Qaida leader Osama bin-Laden is thought to be hiding in the area.

Pakistan made a controversial peace deal with militants in the region last year that quickly fell apart.

Islamabad has sent 100,000 soldiers to the region and, of those, more than one-thousand have been killed and more than 200 abducted and held hostage.

The country has seen a series of attacks and suicide bombings since July when military forces stormed a radical Islamabad mosque to quash militants and more than 100 people were killed.

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