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Pakistan Claims New Victory Against Al-Qaida Fighters

Pakistan's military says it has flushed out hundreds of al-Qaida-linked militants from its semi-autonomous South Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan, but there is still no sign of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Regional military commander Major General Niaz Khattak says his forces have taken control of three-fourths of South Waziristan, a remote mountainous region he says serves as a haven for foreign guerrillas.

The general made the remarks on Saturday during a military-arranged press visit to Wana, the administrative center of the border region.

General Khattak says until March of this year, there were as many as 600 such militants, staging attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but he says that the anti-terror operations have reduced these numbers drastically.

"With the kind of operations undertaken, nine major operations and over two dozen smaller operations, and the kind of attrition caused, in my reckoning, there shouldn't be more than 100 [left]," said Niaz Khattak.

The Pakistani general says a decisive operation is currently underway, and has already captured or destroyed several suspected militant hideouts in the area.

"We have busted their main bases, we have broken their myth, and we have inflicted a considerable number of casualties," he said. "In my reckoning, they have suffered no less than 30 to 40 dead."

General Khattak says many of the remaining fighters, including fugitives of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime, are being led by Abdullah Mehsud, an al-Qaida-linked tribesman, who was recently released by the U.S. military from its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But the general adds that he has seen no evidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is among the foreign fighters resisting the current military campaign.

"Let me make it very, very clear to you, that today, so far, I have had no, repeat it, no indication whatsoever of Osama bin Laden," emphasized general Khattak. "There has not even been a rumor of Osama bin Laden in this area."

American and Afghan officials have been suggesting that the al-Qaida leader could be hiding in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.