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Pakistani troops kill 16 militants

Pakistani security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, battled al Qaeda linked militants near the Afghan border on Sunday, killing 16 and wounding 25.

world Updated: Sep 14, 2008 22:08 IST

Pakistani security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, battled al Qaeda linked militants near the Afghan border on Sunday, killing 16 and wounding 25, a government official said.

Pakistani forces have intensified offensives in the northwestern regions of Bajaur and Swat in recent days. According to security officials, more than 150 militants have been killed in the fighting.

Pakistan insists it will handle the security threat within its borders and is seeking to deter the United States from mounting cross border commando raids on al Qaeda and Taliban targets.

Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, last week warned the United States against violating Pakistan's borders, though the New York Times reported that President George W. Bush had given permission for U.S. raids, as the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan showed no sign of abating.

The latest clashes broke out early on Sunday in the villages of Loi Sam, Rashakai and Tang Khata in Bajaur tribal region.

"Our forces targeted militant's positions with artillery fire and gunships and inflicted big losses on them," a senior government official in the region, Iqbal Khattak, told Reuters.

He said 16 militants had been killed, but the fighting was still going on late Sunday afternoon.

Military spokesman Major Murad Khan said security forces captured villages of Khazana and Nasirabad, two militant strongholds, during Sunday's offensive.

The army spokesman said there had been casualties on both sides but said it was too early to give numbers.

An intelligence official in the region told Reuters that troops were trying to destroy underground tunnels, used by the militants, who included foreign fighters.

Pakistan's new civilian-led government has committed itself to fighting militancy, as former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf had done, though siding with the United States is deeply unpopular.

A helicopter-borne ground assault by U.S. commandos earlier this month, in which 20 people, including women and children were killed, sparked outrage in Pakistan.

On Saturday, Pakistani fighter jets began reconnaissance flights over villages near the Afghan border where there have been a spate of U.S. drone aircraft missile strikes.

Islamabad says the U.S. territorial violations and resulting civilian casualties hardened support for the militants among the ethnic Pashtun tribes of the region.

Tension with the United States has added to the concerns of investors who have seen Pakistan's financial markets battered by political turmoil and economic problems this year.