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Fighting in Pakistan Border Area Leaves Three Militants Dead

Pakistani attack helicopters on Tuesday pounded suspected Islamic militant hideouts near the Afghan border as clashes killed three militants and two soldiers, officials said.

The fighting began late Monday when militants fired a barrage of rockets at an army convoy near Imalkhel, a village in the North Waziristan tribal region, after a roadside bomb exploded, forcing the vehicles to stop. One soldier was killed and at least six were wounded, said an army official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to make media comments.

The army retaliated, killing three militants late Monday. The military stepped up its response early Tuesday, sending three Cobra helicopters to pound suspected militant hideouts, according to an intelligence official, who requested anonymity for the same reason.

The intelligence official said two soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded in the overnight rocket attack. It wasn't immediately possible to reconcile the differing tolls from the two officials.

Gul Zaman, a local shop owner, said four army trucks were hit in the rocket attack, but he couldn't see whether there were any casualties.

Also Monday, suspected militants killed a soldier manning a roadside security post in a drive-by shooting near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

Local pro-Taliban tribesmen have stepped up resistance to Pakistani security forces in recent weeks, and fighting has killed scores of militants. Military officials have said Arab, Afghan and Central Asian fighters, suspected of links with Al Qaeda, are also active in the region.

In neighboring South Waziristan, militants attacked a security post Monday, triggering a gunbattle with troops that left one attacker dead and two others wounded, another intelligence official and a fighter said.

Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in the war against terrorism. It has deployed about 80,000 troops to its tribal regions on the Afghan border to track down militants but is struggling to contain the escalating violence.