Four troops and three suspects were killed in the ongoing hunt on Al-Quaida and Taleban fugitives near the Afghan border. About 700 paramilitary
forces participated in the operation in Kaloosha, a village about six miles west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, Pakistan.
The situation is very serious, very intense. There have been casualties
according to a resident of the town of Wana.
In Tuesday's battles, Pakistani paramilitary forces on a routine search operation exchanged gunfire with "miscreants" and have since called in
tribal elders to negotiate a surrender, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.
No foreign fighters were involved in the gun battle, making it likely that Pakistani forces were fighting local tribesmen, Sultan said.
Sultan said both sides suffered casualties, although he provided no details.
In recent weeks, Pakistan's military and paramilitary have launched a number of sweeps for "suspected foreign terrorists" along the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border, particularly in the South Waziristan region -- a deeply conservative tribal area along the semi-autonomous border region
in the nation's northwest.
It is believed the elements of former Afghan rulers the Taliban as well as al Qaeda may be trying to regroup or are hiding out in the region. Some
also believe Osama bin Laden may also be in the area.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led war on terror, much to the irritation of Islamic hardliners in
The hunt for al Qaeda remnants and the group's leader bin Laden is set to feature in talks between Musharraf and Powell. Powell is set to also meet
with Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
On the other side of the border, the U.S. military is known to be planning a spring offensive, called Operation "Mountain Storm", against remnants
of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
The plan hopes to catch al Qaeda and Taliban members in the middle as the U.S. and Pakistani militaries press in from both sides.
Already U.S. military operations in Afghanistan have been stepped up.
A series of weekend raids in Afghanistan's mountainous border region with Pakistan resulted in the deaths of three anti-coalition fighters, and
netted 13 captives, military officials said.
U.S. officials have said that ground troops and aircraft are expected to move into Afghanistan's southeastern border region near Pakistan in the days
and weeks ahead to conduct operations against Taliban and al Qaeda remnants believed to be operating there.
Military officials said it is not expected that U.S. forces in Afghanistan will increase beyond the current level of 11,000.
Related ATSNN stories
Taliban fugitives flood across Pakistan's porous border
Rumsfeld Says Not Narrowing Search for Al-Qaeda Leader
[Edited on 16-3-2004 by SkepticOverlord]