Pakistani troops have killed at least 12 suspected al-Qaida militants and arrested a dozen others in their largest offensive against the international terrorist network. At least one Pakistani soldier has been killed and two have been injured by the fighting in a rugged tribal region, known as Angor Adda, near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani forces launched the early-morning operation against what they call five compounds, or houses, occupied by an unspecified number of suspected al-Qaida and Taleban fugitives. Reporters taken to the scene, saw four dead bodies under blankets. Military officials said there were at least eight bodies lying where they fell.
Small-arms fire crackled, and Cobra helicopters swooped overhead, firing machine guns at positions of the al-Qaida fighters.
"Our guys are trying to flush them out, said Major-General Faisal Alvi, the commander of the operation. "We are having problems actually flushing them out, because they are putting on very strong resistance."
General Alvi said some of those arrested appeared to be from Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime.
"Most of the guys we have encountered so far are foreigners, different nationalities," he said. "You see those guys sitting under the tree, those prisoners we have taken, they are all foreigners and we have four dead foreigners lying here."
The dead and most of the prisoners appeared to be Arab nationals.
A large cache of arms and basic surveillance equipment was seized from the rebel compounds. General Alvi showed the weapons to reporters and gave details.
"You see a machine gun, you see AK-47s, you see a rocket launcher, you see anti-tank mines, you see explosives, you see grenades, all have been recovered from one house," he said. "We still have to get things out of the other houses because fighting is still going on."
The general told reporters that Pakistani troops had surrounded the area late on Wednesday. He said that about 40 militants had been seen crossing into the tribal region of South Waziristan, carrying the bodies of fighters killed in clashes inside Afghanistan.
Another top army general, Shaukat Sultan, said the militants could have been involved in attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces on the Afghan side of the border.
"There is a great possibility that these people could have been involved in the attacks across the border on the coalition forces and have launched those attacks," he said. "They were able to get out of their cordon and that is how they could have come to this area."
Officials in Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop Islamic militants crossing from Pakistani border regions to attack U.S. and Afghan targets. Pakistani military officials say the operation in Angor Adda shows the country's commitment to eliminate terrorism in all its forms form Pakistan.