At least 80 killed in Pakistan clashes


Islamabad : The toll in two days of heavy fighting between security forces and militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan has risen to 80, officials said Monday amid media claims that at least eight civilians also died in mistaken shelling.

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Troops backed by helicopters launched retaliatory strikes south of the town of Mir Ali in north Waziristan Sunday, following insurgent attacks on military convoys in the area.

The operations also targeted militant hideouts with artillery fire, killing 60 of their number, army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said, adding that 20 soldiers also died.

Meanwhile, eight civilians, including five women, were killed and seven injured when houses in Mir Ali were mistakenly hit in the shelling, Pakistan’s Geo news channel reported.

Pakistan’s private Aaj channel put the number of civilian casualties at more than 50, although the army spokesman was unable to confirm death among non-combatants.

The country’s mountainous tribal areas are thought to be refuge of Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants who stage cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

Insurgents in the region and surrounding North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have intensified attacks on security forces since commandos stormed the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad in July.

More than 300 people, including 100 soldiers, have died in the attacks by militant groups, which the army says are also holding more than 240 soldiers prisoner.

Three captured soldiers were shot dead last week and more executions are threatened if the government does not meet the militants’ demand for a prisoner exchange.