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Pakistani forces attack terrorist hideouts near Afghan border

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani troops backed by artillery and aircraft attacked two suspected terrorist hideouts near the rugged Afghan border on Saturday, killing and wounding a number of militants, Pakistan army and security officials said.

The attack was launched near Shakai in the South Waziristan tribal region, scene of several military counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida fugitives and renegade tribesmen in the recent months.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told state-run television that its troops had ``killed and wounded some foreign miscreants'' on Saturday in an exchange of fire near Shakai, but gave no further details. He denied a major new military operation was under way.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity in the capital Islamabad, said the troops had surrounded two hideouts of foreign terrorists and their local supporters who had reportedly used light weapons to attack the army.

In Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, local journalist Allah Noor Wazir cited local residents as saying that three Pakistani fighter planes had launched an attack on Saturday in a forested area near Shakai where militants were believed to be hiding.

Officials could not confirm the report.

Although the last major military operation in South Waziristan ended in June _ leaving more than 100 people dead _ sporadic clashes have continued, with militants frequently launching rockets against security forces.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States and has been hunting remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where hundreds of militants, including Arabs and Central Asians, have taken refuge since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.

In March, a top Uzbek militant named Tahir Yuldash was injured in an army operation in the region, but he got away. He remains at large.

Officials say the military operations have forced some al-Qaida operatives to flee the area and move elsewhere in Pakistan. In the past month, authorities say they have captured more than 60 terror suspects around the country.

Among them was Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in east Africa that killed more than 200 people. He was captured in eastern Punjab province last month.
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