20 militants, 2 soldiers killed in Pakistan clashes

Rebel fighters attack security checkpoints in Taliban stronghold near northwestern border with Afghanistan.

pakistan clashes 88 (photo credit: )
pakistan clashes 88
(photo credit: )
Clashes between suspected militants and security forces near Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan left at least 20 insurgents and two soldiers dead, an army spokesman said. Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said 20 to 25 rebel fighters were killed Monday after they attacked two checkpoints manned by security forces near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a stronghold of pro-Taliban militants along the border where violence has escalated since the militants withdrew from a peace deal. Two Pakistani soldiers also died in the shootouts and seven were wounded, Arshad said. Violence has flared across Pakistan since a deadly military raid on a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad earlier this month. Suicide bombings and shootings have left at least 289 people dead, mostly in the volatile northwest. Over the weekend, fighting between security forces and suspected Islamic militants left 19 militants dead across North Waziristan, Arshad said. Rebels also attacked a third security checkpoint in Mir Ali on Monday evening, sparking more fierce fighting, local security officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media. The army, backed by helicopter gunships, responded to all three attacks. Earlier Monday, a roadside bomb near an army convoy and rocket attacks on military posts wounded seven troops in North Waziristan. The Islamic militants and government signed a peace pact in September last year aimed at stopping militants from crossing into neighboring Afghanistan, leading to a period of relative calm. But the militants announced last week that they had scrapped the accord, saying authorities had violated the deal by redeploying troops to posts they had vacated under the agreement. Arab, Afghan and Central Asian militants - suspected of links with the Taliban and al-Qaida and backed by tribesmen in the area - operate in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani security officials. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is also thought to be hiding in the region. US President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, said Sunday that if needed, the US would consider using military force against al-Qaida to stop it from using its hide-outs in Pakistan to launch terror attacks.