Militants, soldiers killed in clashes
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Suspected militants clashed with security forces Monday near Pakistan’s northwestern border with Afghanistan, killing at least 20 insurgents and two soldiers, an army spokesman said.Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said 20-25 rebel fighters were killed after they attacked two checkpoints manned by security forces near Mir Ali in North Waziristan, a stronghold of pro-Taliban militants along the border.Arshad also confirmed two soldiers died in the shootouts and seven were wounded.Violence has flared across Pakistan since a deadly military raid on a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad earlier this month. Suicide bombings and shootings have left at least 289 people dead, mostly in the volatile northwest.Over the weekend, fighting between security forces and suspected Islamic militants left 19 militants dead across North Waziristan, Arshad said.Rebels also attacked a third security checkpoint in Mir Ali on Monday evening, sparking more fierce fighting, local security officials said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to media.The army, backed by helicopter gunships, responded to all three attacks.The gunbattles broke out hours after a roadside bomb near an army convoy and rocket attacks on military posts wounded seven troops in the region, where violence has escalated since Islamic militants withdrew from a peace deal.The attacks in North Waziristan followed a weekend of violence that the military said left 19 suspected militants dead.A peace pact aimed at stopping militants from crossing into neighboring Afghanistan was signed in September last year and led to a period of relative calm.But the militants announced last week that they had scrapped the accord, saying authorities had violated the deal by redeploying troops to posts they had vacated under the agreement.Arab, Afghan and Central Asian militants – suspected of links with the Taliban and al-Qaida and backed by area tribesmen – are operating in North Waziristan, according to Pakistani security officials. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is also thought to be hiding in the region.President Bush’s homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, said Sunday that if needed, the U.S. would consider using military force against al-Qaida to stop it from using its hide-outs in Pakistan to launch terror attacks.