(AFP) – Sep 26, 2008
TANG KHATA, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistan said Friday that troops have killed 1,000 Islamist militants in a huge offensive, a day after President Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at US forces over a clash on the Afghan border.
Five top Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders were among those killed in a month-long operation in Bajaur, currently the most troubled of Pakistan's unstable tribal areas along the porous frontier, a top official said.
But in a further sign of the instability gripping Pakistan since the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last weekend, three suicide bombers blew themselves up in a shootout with police in Karachi.
Separately, six people, including three children, were killed when a bomb derailed a passenger train near the central city of Bahawalpur, a railways official said.
Reporters were flown by helicopter to Khar, the main town in restive Bajaur, for a briefing on the military operation launched in August against Islamist militants who had taken control of most of the region.
"The overall toll is over 1,000 militants," said Tariq Khan, inspector general of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, adding that 27 soldiers had also been killed in the fighting.
"This is a centre of gravity for the militants," Khan told journalists. "If they lose here they lose everything."
Of the five militant commanders killed, four appeared to be foreigners: Egyptian Abu Saeed Al-Masri; Abu Suleiman, an Arab; an Uzbek commander named Mullah Mansoor; and an Afghan commander called Manaras.
The fifth was a Pakistani commander named only Abdullah, a son of ageing hardline leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad who is based in Bajaur and has close ties to Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Bajaur, which borders the Afghan province of Kunar, has seen some of the fiercest fighting between Pakistani forces and Islamist militants since former military ruler Pervez Musharraf joined the US-led "war on terror" in 2001.
The operation came in response to international pressure on Pakistan's new civilian government, which ousted Musharraf last month, to prevent Pakistan-based militants from launching attacks in Afghanistan.
But tensions have escalated with Washington since a September 3 ground attack by US forces inside Pakistan, the first of its kind since 2001, left about 15 people dead.
Following an exchange of gunfire between US and Pakistani forces on the frontier on Thursday, new President Zardari told the United Nations that Pakistan would not tolerate violations of its sovereignty, even by its allies.
The incident happened after two US military helicopters came under fire from the Pakistani side, a US military spokesman said, insisting that they had been about a mile and a half inside Afghanistan.
The Pakistani military said its troops had fired warning shots at two helicopters which were "well within Pakistani territory."
"Just as we will not let Pakistani's territory to be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbours, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends," he said, without citing the United States or the border flareup.
Chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Admiral Michael Mullen later Friday sought to ease tensions with Pakistan, saying, "Now more than ever is a time for teamwork, for calm."
Meanwhile, in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, three militants detonated suicide vests when police raided their hideout on a tip-off from a captured rebel, police said.
"We have saved Karachi from death and destruction. We know who they were and what was their target in Karachi, but we cannot disclose it immediately," provincial police chief Babar Khattak told AFP.
The incident came less than a week after the suicide truck bomb attack on the Islamabad Marriott, one of the worst attacks in Pakistan's history, which left 53 dead and more than 260 wounded.
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