Pakistani security forces have killed three militants in North Waziristan, their first reported foray for months in a region where America is calling for action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, intelligence officials said.

North Waziristan is home to hundreds of fighters that U.S. officials say are fueling much of the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan. They say Pakistani military action to clear the area is essential if the American-led war in Afghanistan is to succeed.

The army said in a statement three militants were killed and two wounded in a search-and-clearance operation Friday close to Miran Shah, the major town in North Waziristan. It gave no more details, and there was nothing to suggest it was the start of a major offensive.

Earlier, intelligence officials said army helicopter gunships killed one person in a car close to Miran Shah. It was not immediately clear whether they were referring to the same operation.

On Thursday, during a visit to the country by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pakistani army ruled out launching any new offensives in the border area for at least six months. It said it wanted to consolidate gains it has made in other parts of the region over the last year, including in South Waziristan where a major offensive is now winding down.

The Pakistani army has several bases in North Waziristan, but residents say soldiers rarely leave them and the region is in control of the militants. Faced with Pakistani inaction, the United States has launched scores of missiles strikes against militant targets there over the last 18 months.