Taliban militants attacked two Pakistani security posts in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan today, sparking fierce clashes in which 20 rebels were killed, officials said. The attacks followed a week of the most intense clashes ever seen in the troubled Bajaur tribal region, and came as al Qa'eda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a call for jihad in Pakistan. Bajaur is a known haunt of al Qa'eda and Taliban militants hostile to the US-backed governments in Islamabad and Kabul. Mr Zawahiri escaped a major US missile strike in the region in 2006.
"The Taliban launched a big attack on Tor Ghundi fort and Iskandro post. Security forces responded and 20 militants were killed," a paramilitary official said. There was no immediate information about casualties to security forces. Residents said the fighting erupted at 1am today and bodies were scattered across farmland 20 kilometres east of Khar, the main town in Bajaur. Army helicopter gunships and jets pounded militant positions, they said.
Pakistani military officials said yesterday that nine soldiers and 100 militants had been killed in four days of fighting in Bajaur, a mountainous and largely forested region hugging the Afghan frontier. Last week Pakistani forces reoccupied an abandoned check post in Bajaur in an attempt to guard a key militant smuggling route, but were forced to flee again after hundreds of rebels surrounded it.
Separately in Bajaur, militants kidnapped two men and dumped their headless bodies yesterday with a note accusing them of "spying on Taliban activities", residents and officials said. The killings in the village of Charming were the latest in a series targeting alleged spies working for Pakistani forces or for US troops across the border in Afghanistan. Also yesterday, militants shot dead a tribal elder who supported the government in South Waziristan, another restive tribal district, local administration official Muwaz Khan said.
Tribesmen blocked a key road leading out of South Waziristan to protest the killing, residents said. Pakistan has faced mounting international calls to crack down on militants amid a surge in cross-border rebel attacks on international forces in Afghanistan. *AFP