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Pakistan Says 460 Militants, 22 Troops Killed in Bajaur


Pakistani officials say security forces have killed at least 460 al-Qaida-linked militants in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports, the week-long clashes also have left 22 troops dead and forced more than 200,000 people to flee to safer areas.

The fighting is taking place in the volatile northwestern Bajaur tribal region, which is regarded as a stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

Pakistan army gunship helicopters relentlessly pounded insurgent positions since the clashes broke out in the border region a week ago. In addition to killing hundreds of militants, including senior Taliban commanders, officials say many militants were wounded.

The head of the federal Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, says that as many as 3,000 armed militants are present in the area.

Mr. Malik told a news conference in Peshawar Friday that the majority of the militants are foreigners, including nationals from Afghanistan, Central Asia and some Arab countries. He says the government will not surrender, and the security operation will continue until these extremists are wiped out.

Pakistani officials say that the fighting has forced tens of thousands of people to leave the area and take refuge in the adjoining NorthWest Frontier Province. Fleeing residents reported heavy bombings in some villages, and officials say most of those left in the battle zone are militants.

The provincial governor, Owais Ahmed Ghani, told the same news conference that the government has set up relief camps for the displaced people, and efforts are being made to avert a possible humanitarian crisis.

The Bajaur tribal region is adjacent to Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar, where U.S-led coalition forces are fighting al-Qaida and Taliban militants. A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan told VOA they closely coordinate anti-terror operations with their Pakistani counterparts, but are not involved in the current fighting in Pakistan.

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