In Pakistan, thousands of troops, supported by helicopter gunships are attacking suspected hideouts of the al-Qaida terror network in a semi-autonomous tribal region near the Afghan border. Nearly 60 people have died in the three-day offensive, including 15 government soldiers.

The fighting is taking place in Shakai, a mountainous valley of the South Waziristan border region, where scores of suspected foreign militants are believed to be hiding.

Speaking to reporters Friday, military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan says satellite pictures have identified three al-Qaida-linked compounds in the area, including a terrorist training facility with a firing range.

"The security forces have struck at these targets. The fighting is going on almost on all the targets. Since the situation is quite fluid at this moment, we don't have the exact number of casualties,? he said.

The army spokesman says an alleged financier, identified as Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, used to frequently visit one of the compounds under attack. He refused to give further details, and would not confirm whether the suspect was there when the attack occurred.

A similar Pakistan military offensive in March killed more than 100 people, including 48 government soldiers. General Sultan says Pakistan is determined to flush out terrorists from its soil.

"The government has taken a decision, a very bold decision. We are prepared to pay the price, whatever it may be, because we would like to take this war on terror to its logical end," he added.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, and has vowed to crush extremist forces and al-Qaida terrorists on its soil. The policy has outraged militant Islamic groups in the country, and officials blame these forces for a series of deadly attacks across the country, including two attempts to kill president and army chief General Pervez Musharraf in December.

On Thursday, a top army general escaped an assassination attempt in the southern city of Karachi. Ten people, mostly soldiers, were killed in the attack, but the general escaped unhurt. More than 60 people have been killed in terrorist and bomb attacks in the largest Pakistani city in the past month.