3 Soldiers, 24 Militants Killed in NW Pakistan Gun Battles

At least three soldiers and 24 militants were killed Friday in gunfights in a northwestern Pakistani tribal area after militants attacked paramilitary checkpoints, officials said.

"About 150 Taliban militants attacked five Frontier Corps checkposts in Baidnami village near the border with Afghanistan," a senior security official told AFP.

"The attack was repulsed leaving 24 militants dead, and three of our men (paramilitary soldiers) embraced martyrdom," the official said.

Local administration officials in Ghalanai, the main town of Mohmand tribal district, and the paramilitary force confirmed the attack and casualties.

"Militants ran away, leaving behind dead bodies. Twelve soldiers were wounded in the fighting," the official said.

In a telephone call to AFP Taliban spokesman for Mohmand district Sajjad Mohmand claimed his fighters had killed 12 soldiers and captured a checkpost.

"We have killed 12 soldiers and occupied a checkpost," Mohmand said.

He also said two paramilitary soldiers had been captured but security officials rejected the claim, saying no one was missing.

"Security forces have cordoned off the area and were searching for the fleeing militants," the official said.

"Extra soldiers were sent to the area to beef up the checkpoints," he added.

Mohmand district has seen much of the violence linked to Taliban militants in northwestern Pakistan. On December 6, twin suicide bombings killed 43 people in Ghalanai, about 175 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of Islamabad.

Around 4,000 people have died in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan since government forces raided an extremist mosque in Islamabad in 2007. The attacks have been blamed on networks linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Mohamand is one of seven Pakistani tribal districts. The United States considers Pakistan's tribal belt the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.

US officials are putting pressure on Pakistan to launch a major ground offensive in the tribal region of North Waziristan, considered a fortress for Taliban groups fighting US-led troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan vehemently denies accusations that it is not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban in the northwest, saying 2,421 troops have been killed in fighting Islamist militants from 2002 until April this year.

Pakistan supported Taliban regime in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. It became US ally after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.

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