By S.H. Khan (AFP) – Jan 31, 2012
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Dozens of heavily armed Taliban militants attacked a Pakistani military post on Tuesday, sparking clashes that killed eight soldiers and wounded another 15, the military said.
Helicopter gunships were mobilised when the fighting broke out in the same Jogi area as clashes that killed six soldiers on January 25 in the district of Kurram, part of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border.
At the time, security forces claimed to have taken control of Jogi, which is strategically located near Orakzai district, birthplace of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
"Eight security forces personnel embraced martyrdom and 15 were injured," the military said in a statement, adding that 35 Taliban militants were killed in the fighting.
The statement said the militants were unable to dislodge the newly established checkpost, set up to block a route "frequently used" by the Taliban to cross over from Kurram into North Waziristan and onto the Afghan border.
A senior military official earlier told AFP that "more than 300 Taliban attacked" the checkpost in central Kurram at around midnight (1900 GMT Monday).
He put the military casualties at seven soldiers dead and 10 wounded and added that 25 militants were killed.
Independent confirmation of death tolls is largely impossible in the tribal belt, a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold barred to journalists and aid workers.
"Heavy fighting continued until this morning," the military official said.
Last July, Pakistan launched an offensive to evict Islamist militants from Kurram, mirroring operations that it has carried out -- with limited success -- across much of the rest of the tribal belt, only for militants to regroup and return.
Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan is rife with a homegrown insurgency, Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
On Monday, President Barack Obama confirmed for the first time that US drones target Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal badlands, a programme that has escalated under his administration.
The government in Islamabad, whose relations with Washington sank to an all-time low last year, appeared to shrug off the confirmation but made a rare public acknowledgement that the programme had "tactical advantages".
Speaking on Google+ and YouTube, Obama vigorously defended the strikes, saying that many were carried out "on Al-Qaeda operatives in places where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them".
Pakistan, whose relationship with the United States deteriorated in 2011 over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, says more than 3,000 troops have died fighting militants.
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