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9 Killed in Fighting in Pakistan

April 5, 2006

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani security forces battled suspected Islamic militants Wednesday in a northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border, leaving four soldiers and five fighters dead, an army spokesman said.

Another 15 militants surrendered in the fighting in North Waziristan tribal region, spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. He said the battle occurred in Shawal, a rugged, forested area about 9 miles from the Afghan border.

The fighting followed a spree of bloody clashes between pro-Taliban tribesmen and Pakistani troops in recent weeks. It erupted after an overnight rocket attack on a military base in Mana, a village about 30 miles west of the main town of Miran Shah. The rocket assault killed at least two soldiers, while two others died in fighting later Wednesday.

Helicopter gunships backed ground troops that surrounded at least four compounds where militants were believed to be hiding, Sultan said.

He refused to identify the militants who surrendered or give their nationalities.

Military officials have said Arab, Central Asian and Afghan fighters are present in the region, but local tribesmen are also showing increasing resistance to the government. Last month, the army reported that scores of foreign and local militants were killed in fighting with security forces.

Militants also fired seven rockets at a military post at Tata Khel, a village located on the edge of Miran Shah, injuring two soldiers late Tuesday, a security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, has deployed about 80,000 troops in its tribal regions near Afghanistan in an effort to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

The latest clashes came as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited the United States and Richard Boucher, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, made his first visit to Pakistan.

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