ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's army destroyed suspected Al Qaeda hideouts in an air strike near the Afghan border on Tuesday, killing several militants including foreigners, the army said.
The raid in South Waziristan came days after the U.S. intelligence chief said leaders of both Al Qaeda and Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban militia were finding shelter in Pakistan's lawless frontier areas.
An army statement said intelligence sources confirmed the presence of 25 to 30 foreign terrorists and their local facilitators occupying five compounds in the area of Zamzola — a village about three kilometers (two miles) from the frontier.
Pakistani forces backed by helicopter gunships attacked them, destroying three of the compounds.
"We believe most of them (the terrorists) were killed, but we don't have a body count," said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan. He said some were foreigners, but "no high-value target was believed to be there."
No security forces were hurt.
It was not immediately possible to get independent confirmation of casualties because of the remote site of the raid, close to North Waziristan where the government in September signed a controversial peace deal with tribal elders to halt military operations against militants.
In return, local militants promised they would not provide shelter to foreign militants, target Pakistani security forces or launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
However, the government has not signed any such deal in South Waziristan, where the military has carried out scores of operations against Al Qaeda and their local supporters since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
"Pakistani security forces began monitoring the activities of some local and foreign militants in Zamzola recently," Sultan said. He provided no further details.
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has deployed about 80,000 troops in its tribal regions, mostly in North and South Waziristan, in an effort to flush out militants. It still faces criticism from Afghan and Western officials that resurgent Taliban fighters are using its soil as a springboard for attacks inside Afghanistan.
Tuesday's operation came as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Afghanistan, and days after U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told a Senate committee that leaders of both Al Qaeda and Taliban were finding shelter in Pakistan's lawless frontier areas.
Pakistan rejected the allegation, saying it had done more than any country to break the back of Al Qaeda. Pakistan says Al Qaeda leaders Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri might be hiding near the border but they have no authentic information on their whereabouts.