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Pakistan gunships pound Taliban, Al-Qaeda amid US pressure

(AFP) Helicopter gunships pounded militant hideouts in northern Pakistan as the military scoured mountains Friday for 16 missing soldiers believed to have been kidnapped by Taliban rebels.

As the US called for greater efforts against militants using Pakistan’s remote Hindu Kush mountains as a base for terrorist operations, the military said Friday at least 10 Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters were killed in the attack on Thursday.

The operation, which also involved ground forces, took place in the restive North Waziristan region near the Afghan border, where military strikes on militants have taken place throughout the week.

“The miscreants killed in Thursday’s strike were local militants allied to Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” a security official told AFP.

Military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said security forces were taking a proactive approach in the troubled region in an effort to squeeze out the militants, who include local and foreign fighters.

“There is no planned operation going on in North Waziristan but we are responding with greater force against militant attacks on security forces now,” Arshad said.

“In previous months there were several attempts made by miscreants against security forces and we would show patience but it is not the case now.”

Arshad said the military was hunting for 16 paramilitary soldiers who went missing Thursday morning in South Waziristan.

The kidnapping was the first by local Taliban since the South Waziristan authorities struck a peace accord in 2005 with the militant leader in the region, Baitullah Mehsud, said Khaista Rehman, senior political officer in the region.

He said the soldiers were wearing plain clothes and travelling in unmarked vehicles on their way to Sararogha Fort from Jandola FC Camp when they were abducted by unknown gunmen in the Spinkai Raghzai area.

Tensions had been running high in the area since last month when another Taliban leader, Abdullah Mehsud, reportedly blew himself up in the Zhob area of Baluchistan during a military operation, Rehman said.

Militants have said the deployment of troops in South Waziristan is a breach of the peace accord and had threatened revenge for Mehsud’s death, he said, adding the militants had not yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Local authorities were negotiating for the safe release of the soldiers, he said.

The fiercely independent tribes of the Waziristan region have been accused of sheltering Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants blamed for plotting bombings and other attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and around the world.

The new Pakistani raid came two days after a helicopter strike killed at least 13 militants in North Waziristan, and while tribal leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan meet in Kabul to discuss Islamic militant violence in the region.

However, elders from North and South Waziristan, two of Pakistan’s seven tribal regions along the Afghan border, are boycotting the “peace jirga”.

The strike also came as US President George W. Bush again urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to do more to track down Al-Qaeda leaders.

“I have made it clear to him that I expect that there be full cooperation in sharing intelligence” and “swift action” against Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan if solid intelligence emerges about their whereabouts, Bush said Thursday.

Arshad said the stepped-up action in the border areas was not in reaction to pressure from Washington.

“The action is not being done under any outside pressure,” Arshad said. “We know Al-Qaeda is present in the region, there are Taliban elements and their local supporters and we are acting against them in our own national interest.”

According to US intelligence reports Al-Qaeda leaders are sheltering in the lawless tribal regions.

Islamabad has said more than 90,000 Pakistani troops have been deployed in the tribal regions since early 2002 to hunt down Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Pakistan also says more than 700 soldiers and 1,000 militants have been killed in clashes since 2004.

Musharraf on Thursday decided not to impose a state of emergency in Pakistan, ignoring the advice of aides who wanted strong action to prevent more instability in the troubled nation.

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August 10, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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