WANA, Pakistan (AP) — Paramilitary troops stormed a
fortress-like compound with mortars and machine-gun fire yesterday,
killing 24 suspects in a fierce crackdown on al-Qaida and Taliban
fugitives in the rugged tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, the
army spokesman said.

The operation — which left at least eight Pakistani troops
dead and 15 wounded — was a stunning message delivered just
one day after the military president promised to rid the territory
of foreign terrorists.

There have been several anti-terror operations in the
semiautonomous tribal belt in recent months, but none so
bloody.

Brig. Mahmood Shah, security chief in the tribal regions, said
the raid was “the most deadly” in memory in the tribal
areas.

“There will be more such operations,” he told The
Associated Press. “We will continue these operations until it
is assured that our tribal areas have been purged of foreign
terrorists.”

Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said 24 suspects were killed
in the raid, which began shortly after 5 a.m. near Wana, in the
South Waziristan region, just a few miles from the Afghan
border.

The majority of those killed appeared to be tribesmen suspected
of sheltering the terrorists, but Sultan said several of the dead
were also foreigners presumed to be members of al-Qaida. There was
no indication any senior al-Qaida or Taliban leaders were among the
dead, though most of those killed had not yet been identified.

The operation followed an announcement over the weekend that
American forces are stepping up a sweep on the Afghan side of the
border to capture al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts, including terror
chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Sultan said soldiers were able to retrieve only a small number
of the dead suspects because of continued tension in the region,
though the fighting had ended by yesterday evening. The bodies of
all eight dead soldiers were taken to army headquarters at
Wana.

About 700 paramilitary forces began the operation early
yesterday in Kaloosha, a village about six miles west of Wana, the
main town in South Waziristan.

A Kaloosha resident, Qasim Khan, said paramilitary troops
exchanged fire with people inside the mud-brick compound, which had
several low-flung buildings in it and was surrounded by a high wall
and several lookout towers. The fortress-like design is common in
the lawless tribal belt.

It was unclear who was inside, but it was believed to belong to
one of seven tribesmen from the Yargul Khel clan accused of
harboring al-Qaida and Taliban suspects. The seven have refused to
surrender to authorities.

“We are not allowed to go out of our homes,” Khan
told an AP reporter by telephone from the besieged village.

The operation was the latest in a series of military sweeps in
Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal regions.

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