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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Pakistan kills 15-20 militants in raid on camp

ISLAMABAD, June 10 (Reuters) - Pakistani security forces attacked a militant hideout near the Afghan border on Saturday, killing up to 20 people, an army spokesman said.

Pakistan is trying to clear its rugged, semi-autonomous border lands of militants, many of whom fled there after U.S. and Afghan opposition forces ousted Afghanistan's Taliban rulers in late 2001.

The compound, attacked with artillery and helicopters, was near Dattakhel village, in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, said the spokesman, Major-General Shaukat Sultan.

An attack was launched before dawn and about 70 percent of the compound was destroyed, he said.

"We believe we killed 15 to 20 miscreants," he said.

The militants at the hideout, who had been responsible for numerous attacks on security force convoys, were believed to be foreigners and their Pakistani allies, he said.

Foreign al Qaeda supporters, including many from Central Asia, are known to be taking refuge in the area.

Private Aaj TV, citing a security official, said Uzbeks, Tajiks and Chechens were believed to be among the dead.

Foreign Islamist fighters arrived in the area in the 1980s, when, with the encouragement of Pakistan, the United States and Saudi Arabia, they helped Afghan holy warriors battle Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Clashes have intensified in the region since an air strike on an al Qaeda compound in early March.

Altogether, security forces have killed more than 300 militants, including about 75 foreigners, in North Waziristan since the middle of last year.

Pakistani forces have called on the ethnic Pashtun people who inhabit the area to expel foreign militants but many of the tribesmen living on both sides of the porous border, support al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Militants based in Pakistan's border region also launch attacks across the border into Afghanistan, where foreign and government forces are facing the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan has repeatedly called on Pakistan to do more to stop the militants crossing into Afghanistan. Pakistan says Afghanistan should boost security along its side of the border.
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