Three days of fighting may have killed more than 100 pro-Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in a remote tribal region of Pakistan, the army said, and authorities imposed a curfew in the region’s main town.
Thousands of townspeople have fled clashes between the militants and government troops in the North Waziristan region, and journalists have been barred from the administrative capital of Miram Shah, which is under curfew and where most of the fighting took place.
Security forces were mopping up Monday after artillery and helicopter gunships targeted militant redoubts in the town. Local clerics were trying to mediate a cease-fire.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said that based on intelligence reports and questioning of injured and arrested militants, more than 100 guerrillas might have died. He added that security forces had yet to regain control of all compounds in Miram Shah, so he couldn’t give an exact toll.
The fighting is the bloodiest in more than two years in Pakistan’s restive tribal regions along the Afghan border and marks an escalation in President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s campaign to crack down on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants and their local sympathizers.
It also underscored the Pakistani government’s failure to establish control in the rugged regions -- said to be a possible hiding place of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri -- where fiercely independent Pushtun tribesmen have resisted outside authority and influence for centuries.
The trigger of the unrest was a Pakistani army air and ground strike against a suspected Al Qaeda camp in the border village of Saidgi last week that authorities said left 45 people dead, including foreign militants.
Local pro-Taliban tribesmen said that civilians were killed in the assault, and according to officials, ambushed security forces’ vehicles Saturday and opened fire on a base in Miram Shah. The army responded with artillery and fire from helicopter gunships.
About 10,000 people fled the violence. Many ended up in Mir Ali, 15 miles from Miram Shah.