Tue, Mar 07, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani troops use US gunships to mop up militants

AGENCIES , MIRANSHAH AND ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

Pakistani forces used helicopter gunships yesterday to tackle sporadic resistance by pro-Taliban militants, two days after battles in a remote tribal area killed 55 people, officials said.

The clashes came as President Pervez Musharraf stepped up a war of words with Afghanistan, deriding accusations the Taliban leader was in Pakistan as nonsense and questioning the Afghan government's leadership.

Top military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said that the army had seized control of the main markets in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan region, and were patrolling the streets to ensure order.

"Late yesterday and overnight there was an exchange of fire with militants but we are establishing the government writ," he said, adding that troops had taken back all government buildings in the embattled town.

Troops shelled and destroyed two buildings overnight, a madrassah (school) and an Islamic preaching center, which officials said were used by insurgents as sanctuaries. It was not known if there were any casualties.

As troops clamped down in Miranshah, militants fired a rocket into the residential quarters of government employees, killing the daughter of a utility service official, officials said.

Early yesterday, US-built Cobra gunships pounded a small hamlet near Miranshah market after rockets were fired at the army positions, apparently from one of the houses, an official said.

The fighting broke out on Saturday when hundreds of tribal rebels seized government buildings in revenge for an army raid three days earlier targeting an al-Qaeda training camp, killing 40 militants, including foreigners.

Meanwhile, in in an interview with CNN late on Sunday, President Musharraf said relations with Afghanistan were growing tense and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was "totally oblivious" to efforts by elements in his government to malign Pakistan.

Afghanistan is facing an increasingly vicious insurgency by the Taliban, who have been fighting since they were ousted shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

Although Pakistan officially ended its support, many Afghans are convinced the Taliban could not survive and fight without the benefit of Pakistani refuges from where they plot and launch attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan, however, has long rejected such accusations.

Karzai visited Pakistan last month and handed over what Afghan officials said was detailed information about Taliban members and activities in Pakistan, including telephone numbers and the location of supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

But Musharraf said much of the data was old and useless.

"Two-thirds of it is months old, and it is outdated, and there is nothing," he said.

He said he believed there was a conspiracy against his country within Afghanistan's Defense Ministry and intelligence agencies.

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