Pakistan: 5 soldiers, 32 alleged militants killed

PARACHINAR: Taliban fighters seized a security checkpoint close to the Afghan border, sparking clashes that killed five soldiers and 32 insurgents in a region where the army is pressing an offensive, officials said Friday.

Many of the dead insurgents in the Orakzai tribal region were Arab and Uzbek, said Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the commander of the Frontier Corps, a major force in the battle against the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest. He was speaking in the regional capital, Peshawar, after attending the funeral of an officer killed in the fighting Thursday.

Khan said the operations in Orakzai were aimed at hunting Taliban insurgents who had fled a large offensive in nearby South Waziristan. That operation has been praised by the United States, which says fighting extremists on the Pakistani side of the porous border is key to winning the war against the related Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Militants control much of the region, which has become a magnet for jihadists from around the world.

The army said the clashes started when security forces tried to recapture a checkpoint taken Thursday night by militants in the Kalaya area. Khan said 32 militants were killed. The army said five security force members, including the officer, were killed in the fighting, which ended with the military regaining control of the area.

Orakzai is a major base for Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban's top commander, who is believed to have died in a U.S. missile strike in January. The Taliban have denied his death, but have not shown any evidence he is still alive.

On Thursday, Pakistani fighter jets bombed militant targets elsewhere in Orakzai, killing 61 militants sheltering in a religious seminary, a mosque and a school, according to security officials.

The Pakistani Taliban have been under pressure in their main stronghold, the South Waziristan tribal region, since the army launched its ground offensive there in October.

Orakzai and the neighboring tribal area of Kurram have witnessed numerous airstrikes over the past few months.

The inaccessibility of the regions makes it very difficult to get independent confirmation of the casualty figures provided by officials and the identity of those killed. Civilian casualties are rarely, if ever, mentioned in army accounts of the fighting.