Taliban border attack kills 34 in Pakistan

Skirmishes had been going on for 24 hours in a village in Dir region.

Peshawar: Hundreds of heavily armed Taliban besieged a Pakistani checkpost on the Afghan border for a second day on Thursday, killing 28 police and six civilians in the deadliest fighting for months.

A senior police official said that 500 militants, including Afghan Taliban from across the border and Pakistani Taliban, took part in the attack which began before dawn on Wednesday and continued throughout Thursday.

Police said there were reports of up to 45 militants killed in the clashes, but the information could not be confirmed independently.

Fighting was concentrated around the Shaltalu police checkpoint, surrounded by mountains and forest in the northwestern district of Upper Dir, about six kilometres (four miles) from the border with Afghanistan`s Kunar province.

Taliban and other al Qaeda -linked militants have carved out strongholds on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a region that the United States has called one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

The Pakistani military sent reinforcements and helicopter gunships in a bid to quell the attack in an area accessible on the ground only by foot.

"Fighting is still going on in some parts near the checkpost, which was attacked by around 500 Pakistani and Afghan Taliban," regional police chief Qazi Jamil ur-Rehman said.

He said 34 people were killed in the attack, including 28 policemen and six civilians, among them two women and two children, who died when mortar rounds struck 15 houses. He had earlier put the death toll at 28.

Rehman said 21 security forces personnel and 11 civilians were wounded, and that there were reports of up to 45 militants killed in the fighting.

"The fighting is still continuing in some areas. Police, army and paramilitary forces are carrying out a search operation in the area and we hope to establish our control by the evening," he said.

The US-led NATO force in Afghanistan says there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters in the east of the country, most of them in Kunar. But military officials stress it is almost impossible to calculate the exact figure.

An Afghan police official in Kunar told AFP he was aware that the Taliban or other militiamen had launched attacks "on the other side of the border" and said they had no connection to Afghan government security forces.

Upper Dir is part of Pakistan`s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and borders the region where the military waged a major offensive to put down a local Taliban insurgency in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat in 2009.

Thousands of Pakistanis have died in bomb attacks over the last four years and thousands more soldiers have been killed fighting homegrown militants.

But since US Navy SEALs found and killed Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad on May 2, Washington has increased pressure on Pakistan to take more decisive steps.

On Wednesday, the commander in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa played down "media hype" over the prospect of an imminent military offensive in North Waziristan, considered the premier militant fortress on the Afghan border.

Local newspaper The News reported this week that Pakistan had decided to launch a "careful and meticulous" military offensive in North Waziristan after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton`s recent visit to Islamabad.

But Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, the corps commander supervising all military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told reporters: "We will undertake operation in North Waziristan when we want to."

The remote, mountainous region has attracted major interest in the United States as a fiefdom of the Haqqani network, one of its most potent enemies across the border in Afghanistan and thought to have a core of 4,000 fighters.

The Al Qaeda -linked group attacks only across the border in Afghanistan, and is said to have long-standing ties to Pakistan`s intelligence services.

The Center for Global Development think tank has warned that the United States should delay much of a multibillion-dollar package to Pakistan pending economic reforms as the aid has led to official inaction and public resentment.

US lawmakers have questioned aid to Pakistan -- which has totalled $20 billion since the September 11, 2001 attacks -- since the bin Laden debacle.

Bureau Report

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