50 Taliban killed in first battle in Waziristan

Fresh fierce clashes were also reported on Saturday between security forces and rebels in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani fighter jets and attack helicopters pounded militant hideouts in South Waziristan killing 50 Taliban fighters during the past 24 hours, military officials were quoted as saying by the Dawn news channel.

These were the first known casualties among Mehsud's fighters in South Waziristan, where the al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his outfit's other top commanders and Taliban leaders are believed to be holed up.

The strikes were conducted after ground forces supported by tanks moved into areas dominated by the Mehsud tribe. Columns of troops were seen moving from Wana, the main town in South Waziristan Agency, to Madijan, an area adjoining the Mehsud territory.

But, officials said the action did not herald the start of a full-scale operation on Waziristan, where the army has completed its deployment and is occupying strategic positions.

In reply to a question whether he has asked India to resume dialogue with Pakistan, Obama said: "Well, what we have said is that we think that all of South Asia would benefit by reduced tensions between India and Pakistan."

Obama had recently sent a letter to the Indian Prime Minister, which was delivered by the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns.

"I think that dialogue is the best way to reduce tensions. And so, you know, we're hopeful that Prime Minister Singh and President Zardari -- they recently had an opportunity to meet briefly. It wasn't an extensive conversation but it was the start of what may end up being more productive conversations in the future," Obama underlined.

In Mohmand Agency, three militants and a security personnel were killed today when rebels attacked a check post at Ambar. The militants fired rockets at the check post, killing a security personnel. Three militants were killed in retaliatory action by the security forces.

In the restive Bajaur tribal region, security forces killed at least 15 militants in retaliatory strikes yesterday after the Taliban ambushed a military convoy in Chaharmang area. Two soldiers were killed and several others injured in the ambush.     

Five more militants were killed in Chaharmang area on Friday when security forces shelled Taliban positions. A military operation was launched in Chaharmang last week. 

  The Pakistan Army said earlier this week that the government had ordered it to launch an operation against local Taliban chief Mehsud and his network in South Waziristan.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar has said Mehsud would be hit as soon as he is located.     

Reports have said the Pakistan Army is coordinating with Afghan and NATO forces across the border for the offensive in South Waziristan.

Meanwhile, sectarian clashes between Shias and Sunnis have flared up again in the Kurram tribal region. One person was killed and six more injured in clashes between members of the rival groups on Saturday.

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