Pakistan says fierce clashes between security forces and suspected terrorists near the border with Afghanistan have left at least 40 people dead, including 15 paramilitary troops.
The bloody clashes broke out Tuesday in the country's semi-autonomous region known as South Waziristan, where Pakistani forces have been engaged in operations aimed at flushing out foreign militants.
Officials say the latest operation was based on a tip-off that a group of suspected fugitive members of al Qaida were hiding in a village near Wana, just kilometers from the Afghan border. They say paramilitary forces surrounded the area, which provoked the militants to fight back with mortars and heavy weapons, instantly killing several security personnel.
The provincial government says that at least 24 of what it calls suspected "foreign terrorists" along with locals sheltering them were also killed in the fighting.
Shafiq-uz Zaman is a top advisor to the governor of the border region. He says the fighting has died down but the area remains tense. "The death toll of Frontier Corps [paramilitary troops] in Wana operation, which was launched yesterday, has risen from eight to fifteen whereas the number of wounded stands at 22," he says.
Pakistan authorities say they have detained about 18 suspects and troops are searching the rugged mountainous area for any remaining militants. Officials say about 15 security personnel are also missing and there are fears they may have been taken hostage.
Pakistan's latest operation coincides with a major U.S. led offensive on the Afghan side of the border to flush out al-Qaida militants and their local supporters.