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Pakistan's Military Campaign Against Al-Qaida Militants Draws to End - 2004-03-28


Pakistan says a two-week military campaign against suspected al-Qaida militants near the Afghan border is now in its final stages. The military says it has killed more than 60 foreign militants and their local supporters, and detained about 160 others.

Pakistan's military launched the operation on March 16, in the mountainous tribal region of South Waziristan, where hundreds of what were described as heavily armed al-Qaida fighters were said to be hiding.

The fighting, involving thousands of Pakistani troops, was the heaviest in Pakistan since the government joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism. More than two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed in the operation.

Military officials say the campaign has largely achieved its goal of dismantling a major militant base in the semi-autonomous border area.

Suspected members of the al-Qaida terror network are believed to have taken refuge in the region, after fleeing U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations across the border in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan says intelligence sources and some of the detainees have confirmed a senior al-Qaida leader from the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan was also wounded in the clashes. But he says the militant, identified as Tahir Yuldashev, managed to escape.

"There were about 60 miscreants who have been killed, and scores of them were injured," he said. "And out of the injured, we have the information that one high-profile, one of the top al-Qaida leaders, Tahir Yuldashev, was also amongst the injured, along with his other associates, and he is now hiding somewhere."

Tahir Yuldashev is the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a close ally of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban government. He is wanted in Uzbekistan for carrying out terrorist attacks there.