Dozens killed in fighting near Pakistani-Afghan border

Latest deaths push the toll from more than two weeks of fighting in the South Waziristan region to more than 250.

afghan violence 88 (photo credit: )
afghan violence 88
(photo credit: )
Pakistani tribesmen, bolstered by waves of volunteers, have killed dozens more foreign militants allegedly linked to al-Qaida near the Afghan border, officials said. The latest deaths push the toll from more than two weeks of fighting in the South Waziristan region to more than 250, officials have said, leading the government to claim a victory against terrorism. According to three security officials on Wednesday, about 50 of those killed in the past 24 hours in South Waziristan were Uzbeks. About 10 local tribesmen and three members of Pakistan's security forces also died, they said. The officials asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to make media statements. Armed tribesmen turned on foreign militants and their local allies in the lawless region, where Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have long found sanctuary, on March 19, apparently after a long-standing feud turned violent. Poor security in the region, where the government has minimal control, puts it largely off-limits to reporters. Hundreds of Central Asian militants settled in Pakistan's remote border zone over the past two decades, where they have formed alliances with some of the tribes and married into local clans. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, has failed to prevent Taliban fighters and leaders finding sanctuary and support in the same region for their insurgency in Afghanistan. However, his government has cracked down more visibly on suspected al-Qaida affiliates. On Monday, a council of elders in Wana, South Waziristan's main town, declared jihad, or holy war, against the Central Asians, accusing them of disregarding local traditions and killing tribesmen, and beat traditional war drums to raise a militia. "Over the past two days there were efforts to raise a lashkar," or tribal militia, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said. "They have sent 200 people and they will send more" to fight the foreigners, he said. A senior security official said the militia had moved into two areas, north of the main town of Wana and at Kalosha, a village west of Wana. He said fighters used small arms, mortars and rockets. A second security official said dozens of Uzbeks had surrendered. The senior official said two Pakistani soldiers and one paramilitary policeman at a post near Wana were killed by mortar fire from foreign militants on Wednesday morning. The Pakistani forces had fired back. It was unclear if the militants suffered casualties in the exchange of fire. The army insists it is not directly involved in the fighting, though it has suggested that troops may respond with artillery if they come under attack.