Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan claims it killed 50 al-Qaeda fighters in training

CONFLICTING STORIES Saying troops traded fire with `some miscreants,' an army spokesman hedges on whether the dead were foreigners

AP , WANA, PAKISTAN

Skirmishes went on overnight between troops and militants in a tense tribal region near the Afghan border where Pakistani jets flattened an alleged al-Qaeda training facility, killing at least 50 fighters, area residents and the military said yesterday.

Those killed reportedly included Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens.

Acting on a tip, the army on Thursday demolished an alleged al-Qaeda facility located at Dila Khula, a South Waziristan village about 25km northeast of the region's main town, Wana.

The army's action sparked skirmishes in the area, with gunmen firing on some vehicles carrying troops.

There was no word on army casualties.

An army spokesman yesterday said their forces "did exchange fire with some miscreants" after Thursday's operation, but the "situation is now under control."

However, he clarified ground forces had not moved in the area where the training facility was razed, adding "local people might have buried those foreigners and their supporters who were killed in the assault."

"We don't have any bodies of the miscreants with us," he said.

Military sources had said earlier that 90 percent of the 50 dead terror suspects were foreigners, and that Pakistani troops had retrieved some of the bodies.

Pakistan has frequently overstated the scope of its military operations, claiming to have captured or killed foreigners that turn out to be local tribesmen, or to have zeroed in on top al-Qaeda men who never materialize.

Villagers in recent months have also complained of civilian casualties.

A large number of central Asian and Arab militants are believed to be living in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Many came to fight alongside US-backed Afghan militants against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and some never left.

The area's tribes are autonomous and resentful of the army's presence, making it an ideal hideout.

The army has frequently launched attacks in Waziristan to flush out Islamic militants. Hundreds of people, including civilians, have died in these attacks.

Pakistan, a key US ally, has deployed about 70,000 troops in tribal regions bordering Afghanistan to hunt remnants of the anti-Western al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.

The government has said the operations would continue until terror suspects are captured or eliminated.

The groups were earlier offered amnesty, but none of their members accepted it.

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