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Pakistani Forces Battle Militants on Afghan Border

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stages a protest against President Pervez Musharraf.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stages a protest against President Pervez Musharraf on Monday. Islamic militants and Pakistani security were engaged in heavy fighting Tuesday. Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

As many as 250 people have been killed in recent days in fierce combat between Pakistani security forces and Islamic militants along the rugged Afghan border in some of the deadliest clashes in years, army officials said Tuesday.

Warplanes struck a village bazaar in North Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday afternoon, killing more than 50 militants and civilians and wounding scores more, resident Noor Hassan told The Associated Press.

"The bombing destroyed many shops and homes," Hassan said by telephone from the village of Epi. "We are leaving."

A dozen explosions rocked the village and bombs also hit the nearby village of Hader Khel, Hassan said.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said military aircraft struck "one or two places" near the town of Mir Ali. There were unconfirmed reports that about 50 militants were killed.

A roadside bomb killed two soldiers elsewhere on Tuesday, army officials said.

Epi lies about 2½ miles from Mir Ali.

The fighting began Saturday after a roadside bomb hit a truckload of paramilitary troops, sparking bitter clashes.

The bodies of dozens of soldiers — many with their throats slit — have been recovered from deserted areas of the region, fleeing residents said.

The violence comes as Gen. Pervez Musharraf tries to secure another term as president, vowing to shore up Pakistan's troubled effort against Islamic extremism.

The army appeared to be resorting to heavy firepower. Pakistani troops have suffered mounting losses as they try to reassert state authority in a swath of mountainous territory where warlords supportive of the Taliban and al-Qaida have seized control.

Before Tuesday's airstrikes, army officials had reported that 150 fighters and 45 soldiers have been killed in battles since Saturday. From 12 to 15 troops are also missing, and another 50 militants and 20 soldiers have been wounded.

Security forces have rejected a cease-fire proposed by the militants and will "continue punitive action till complete peace is restored" in the area, a statement issued by the army said.

Pakistan struck a cease-fire deal with militants in North Waziristan last year.

U.S. officials criticized the pact, claiming it gave a safe haven for al-Qaida and provided a rear base for Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In July, Pakistan's army redeployed troops at key checkpoints in the region, sparking fresh hostilities.

After Saturday's bombing, about 300 militants ambushed an army convoy traveling to the scene, killing 22 troops and wounding 11.

Security forces have suffered more than 250 casualties in the past three months, many of them in suicide bombings. The government is also trying to secure the release of more than 200 soldiers seized in the South Waziristan region at the end of August.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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