Pakistan Dozens of Islamic militants died in clashes with Pakistani troops Friday, the army said, amid reports that government forces had launched an operation to clear the area of fighters who overran military positions near the Afghan border.
The intensifying combat highlighted the deteriorating security in the region, a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaida.
Last month, Islamist warlord Baitullah Mehsud unveiled an alliance of Taliban militants operating in the lawless tribal area. That represented a new challenge to the authority of President Pervez Musharraf, who has deployed nearly 100,000 troops in the region since joining the U.S.-led war on terror six years ago.
The government believes Mehsud masterminded the Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto - a conclusion shared by the CIA, a U.S. intelligence official said in Washington. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.