ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani troops have ended a major operation to flush out Al Qaeda (search) suspects and their local supporters from hide-outs in a remote region near Afghanistan. An army spokesman said Monday that 72 people died, including 17 security personnel.
The United States military in Afghanistan praised the operation, but said it was not aware that any Al Qaeda leaders had been captured.
Even as the five-day operation ended in South Waziristan (search), two Pakistani soldiers and a driver were killed and three injured Monday in the bombing of a vehicle carrying paramilitary forces in neighboring North Waziristan. Also, Pakistani intelligence agents exchanged gunfire with Al Qaeda suspects near a northern city, killing one militant.
The operation was launched after foreign militants killed 15 security personnel near the town of Shakai, 210 miles west of the capital, Islamabad, last Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said.
Army soldiers, backed by artillery, helicopter gunships and jet fighters, targeted rebel hide-outs. The operation left 55 militants dead, he said. Two more soldiers were killed during the action.
"The operation concluded Sunday evening," Sultan told The Associated Press.
He said all the slain militants were terrorists, but he declined to reveal their identities or nationalities.
The army also recovered a huge cache of arms, including heavy weapons and ammunition.
A senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of those killed were foreigners and efforts were underway to identify them and confirm their links with Al Qaeda.
The official said it was not clear if the dead men had links with leaders of the terror network.
Pakistan's tribal regions bordering Afghanistan are considered a possible hide-out for Usama bin Laden and his chief aide, Ayman al-Zawahri (search).
In Afghanistan, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager, said the Army "applauds Pakistan's aggressive attacks on terrorists" and that its own forces were poised along the Afghan side of the border to intercept any militants trying to flee.
"Together, Pakistan and the coalition are showing the terrorists that their places of refuge are becoming more and more limited," he told a press conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Asked if any Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders were killed, captured or had escaped the South Waziristan operation, Mansager said he was unaware of any "particular high-value or leadership targets."
The operation followed weeks of unsuccessful efforts to get hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, said to be a mix of Arabs, Central Asians, Afghans and Uzbeks, to register with authorities in South Waziristan.
Sultan said Pakistani security forces on Sunday opened fire on some vehicles carrying Afghans when they crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan, and according to radio intercepts, eight of the intruders were killed.
Sultan said others fled back to Afghanistan, leaving behind two vehicles.
Pakistan has deployed about 70,000 troops in its tribal regions to prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda fugitives from sneaking into Pakistan after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) made this Islamic nation a key ally of the United States in its war on terror.
On Monday, a remote-control bomb blew up a vehicle carrying paramilitary soldiers on a dirt road on the outskirts of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, killing two soldiers and a driver, and injuring three soldiers, government official Syed Zaheer-ul-Islam said. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile, intelligence agents battled four Al Qaeda suspects in a car as they neared Abbottabad, a city 50 miles north of Islamabad, killing one of the militants, an intelligence source said on condition of anonymity. The other three fled and their nationality wasn't immediately clear.
City police chief Feroz Shah confirmed a gunfight between security forces and militants but gave no details.
In the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, a militant accused in the killings of about 100 Shiite Muslims was arrested Sunday, a senior security official said Monday.
Dawood Badini, a leader of the Al Qaeda-linked group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (search), was captured in a raid on a home, said Maj. Gen. Javed Zia, head of the paramilitary rangers for southern Sindh province.
He said Badini orchestrated three attacks against minority Shiites in southwestern city of Quetta in 2003 and 2004, which killed 99 people. Lashkar is a Sunni Muslim militant group.
In the first attack in June 2003, gunmen ambushed a vehicle killing 12 Shiite policemen. The following month, a bomb attack on a Shiite mosque killed 41 people. In March 2004, a homicide attack on a religious procession left 46 people dead.
The arrest follows that of at 11 terrorist suspects who were captured in Karachi over the weekend, including Masrab Arochi, whom officials said is a nephew of former Al Qaeda No. 3, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (search).