Islamic militants killed five Pakistani soldiers in a raid on a fort near the Afghan border Tuesday, as a top US commander met the country's army chief to discuss how to tackle the rebels.
Residents said two civilians died in military air strikes after the attack in the South Waziristan tribal zone, the hideout of an Al Qaeda-linked warlord accused of masterminding the murder of Benazir Bhutto.
Fighting has escalated sharply in the rugged region since former premier Bhutto was assassinated last month, with more than 150 militants and soldiers said to have been killed since the start of the year.
The clashes came hours before Admiral William Fallon, head of US Central Command which deals with the Middle East, met Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
“He (Fallon) remained with him for some time and discussed matters of professional interest with particular reference to (the) security situation in the region,” a Pakistani military statement said.
US and other Western officials have been watching nuclear-armed Pakistan with alarm since Bhutto's death sparked mass unrest and the postponement of elections by six weeks until February 18.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday began meetings in France, the second leg of a European tour aimed at shoring up his battered image and underscoring his pivotal role in the fight against terrorism.