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58 Killed In Pakistan Fighting

A day-long battle in northern Pakistan leaves 23 soldiers, 35 militants dead in a region where US military officials have long pressed for action.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 6/2/2011, 6:16 PM / Last Update: 6/2/2011, 6:48 PM

A day-long clash between Islamic insurgents operating from terror bases in Afghanistan and Pakistani military ended Thursday with 58 dead, the Associated Press reports.

The fighting, in which 23 soldiers and 35 insurgents were killed, underscores the challenges the Pakistani military faces in securing North Waziristan, a tribal area long considered "porous" by US leaders who have been pushing for action.

Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, especially the North Waziristan tribal region, has long been a haven of impunity for terrorists who launch attacks against Western forces across the border -- as well as locally, in Pakistan -- due to the Pakistani government's US ties.

The clash, which began Wednesday and wound down Thursday, occurred in Shaltalo in the Upper Dir district. Upper Dir lies just outside the tribal belt, but has seen significant Al Qaeda and Taliban activity and been the focus of military offensives in the past.

Police spokesman Johar Khan told reporters the situation was under control as of noon Thursday and that funerals were being arranged for the dead soldiers.

Possible Preemptive Strike

The Afghan terrorist raid comes the day after Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, who oversees Pakistan's military operations in the tribal areas, said the Kurram tribal area would be the next target of an offensive after local leaders there requested it.

Kurram has long been home to sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, but has also become a stomping ground for terrorists with other aims. According to some reports, the Haqqani network, a faction of the Afghan Taliban, has been shifting fighters there from North Waziristan tribal region.

The Haqqani network is considered a top threat to US forces in Afghanistan, in part because its fighters can retreat to bases across the border to North Waziristan where they have little interference from the Pakistani military.

The US has pushed the Pakistani military go after the Haqqanis and other terror factions in North Waziristan. That pressure has increased in the wake of the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden in a garrison city in Pakistan's northwest, by US forces which deeply embarrassed Pakistan's military.

To date, Pakistani officials have resisted US pressure, saying their troops are stretched thin on other fronts and that their priority is eliminating insurgents who attack Pakistan, which they assert the Haqqanis have not done.

Malik said Wednesday that that position has not changed, and dismissed what he termed as "media hype" about an imminent Pakistani offensive in North Waziristan.

"There is no change in North Waziristan in past months and weeks," Malik said. "We will undertake an operation when we want to, when it's in the national interest."