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Militants' Attacks Highlight Violence Along Afghan Border


Islamic militants attacked and killed five Pakistani soldiers in the country's tribal mountainous region near the border with Afghanistan as analysts say the al-Qaida-linked fighters appear to be gaining more control of the region. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Islamabad reports.

Violence has increased in the past week between Pakistani security forces and militants. The latest attack, before dawn Tuesday, left five Pakistani soldiers dead.

Last week, the al-Qaida-linked militants attacked and briefly captured a military fort in South Waziristan. Two days later the military claimed up to 90 militants were killed in two separate clashes in the same area, but a spokesman for the militants denied the heavy loss of life.

Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says the militants suffered heavy casualties in the latest attack but did not know the exact number of deaths. He also denied the military was carrying out a major offensive in the region.

"The military, or security forces, are carrying out the operations in the areas where they're being attacked upon," he said. "The civilians are being pressurized by the militants to fall in their line and we are not carrying out any big operation, it is only against the miscreants which are

creating problems of attacking security forces."

The al-Qaida linked militants are led by Pakistan's most wanted man, Baitullah Mehsud, whom both the government and the United States blame for the assassination last month of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

The security forces have been fighting militants in South Waziristan for several years. Many al-Qaida and Taliban fighters took refuge on the Pakistan side of the border after the United States ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

In recent months, the militants have launched at least 20 bombings aimed mostly at the security forces across Pakistan, killing more than 400 people.

Political analyst Ayaz Amir says the government is losing control of the tribal region.

"Its [the government] reach has not only diminished, it has evaporated from many parts of the tribal areas, especially north and south Waziristan. And to the extent where the tribals who are really in favor of the government, they're afraid to show their true feelings or true colors because of fear of retaliation from the Taliban militants," said amir. "So the situation is very bad."

Although violence has risen across Pakistan, Amir does not believe it will stop the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for February 18.

The latest attack occurred just hours before Admiral William Fallon, the commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, was due in the country Tuesday for talks with Pakistani army commander General Ashfaq Kayani.

No details of his visit have been released.