Pak forces launch helicopter operation in tribal areas

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Islamabad, March 18, IRNA -- Pakistani troops have used helicopter 
gunships in operation in tribal region against al-Qaeda suspects and 
local tribesmen who the government says have given shelter to foreign 
militants, military spokesman said. 
Spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said that authorities in 
South Waziristan made announcements through loud speakers telling the 
people to leave the area prior to operation. 
"The operation was launched after the people left the area," he 
Sultan said Pakistan regular force and paramilitary forces are 
backed by helicopters, targeting the suspects. 
"The Thursday`s operation is continuation of the operation, first 
launched on March 16," the military spokesman said. 
Pakistani forces lost 16 troops and killed at least 24 militants 
Tuesday in their bloodiest encounter to date with Al-Qaeda suspects 
and Taliban suspects as well as locals sheltering them in the remote 
tribal district of South Waziristan, the interior minister said in the
National Assembly on Thursday. 
"The militants and their supporters showed stiff resistance on the 
first day of operation," Sultan said. 
The fresh offensive coincides with the visit of US Secretary of 
State Colin Powell, who praised operation against Al-Qaeda and Taliban
fighters hiding along its rugged northwest border with Afghanistan. 
Pakistan`s President General Pervez Musharraf told tribal elders in
Peshawar this week that 500 to 600 foreigners were hiding in the 
tribal belt hugging the border. 
The operation coincided with a fresh 10-day old offensive by US 
forces over the border in southeast Afghanistan as part of the stepped
up hunt for Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. 
Powell said in Kabul on Wednesday that 13,500-strong US-led 
military coalition in Afghanistan would be increasing the pace of 
operations along the border and working in tandem with Pakistani 
Pakistan was the major backer of Taliban and has been accused by 
western media of turning a blind eye to its members and loyalists, 
despite becoming a key player in the war on terrorism after abandoning
its former allies following the September 11 attacks. 

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