Pakistani forces have bombed dozens of houses in a tribal region near the Afghan border, officials and witnesses said, amid reports that days of clashes have killed at least 100 insurgents and nine paramilitary troops. Details have been scarce about Sunday's military offensive in Bajur, an insurgent stronghold considered a possible hiding place for al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. Sardar Khan, a local police official, said two spells of aerial bombing destroyed about 40 houses in several villages. He said bombs also struck a school occupied by Taliban fighters in Loi Sam, a village that has been a key focus of the fighting. Two residents, Sher Zamin and Attaullah Khan, said army planes and helicopters dropped bombs and shells, apparently on suspected Taliban positions.
Meanwhile, an Associated Press reporter in Khar, the main town in Bajur, saw Taliban militants patrolling and staking out positions on roads with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and, in some places, anti-aircraft guns.
Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to crack down on militants in its tribal areas, from where they launch attacks on government and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Bajur offensive came in the wake of a militant assault on Wednesday on an outpost manned by security forces. Officials said those initial clashes killed 25 militants and two troops.
Conflicting casualty figures were reported on Sunday. A paramilitary Frontier Corps statement said nine troops and at least 100 militants were killed in the last four days. But a military intelligence official placed the number of troops dead at 13. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Maulvi Umar, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, claimed the militants had handed over 22 bodies belonging to security forces in the last three days after pleas from tribal elders.