updated 1/16/2007 7:40:47 AM ET 2007-01-16T12:40:47

Pakistan’s soldiers backed by attack helicopters destroyed three suspected al-Qaida hideouts near the Afghan border on Tuesday and killed a number of the militants, who included foreigners, an army spokesman said.

The raid in South Waziristan came days after the U.S. intelligence chief said leaders of both al-Qaida 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 foreigners and local supporters occupying five compounds near Zamzola, a village about two miles from the frontier.

Pakistani forces backed by helicopter gunships attacked them, destroying three of the compounds.

“We believe most of them were killed, but we don’t have a body count,” he said. He said some were foreigners, but “no high-value target was believed to be there.”

He said no security forces were hurt.

Remote raid
It was not immediately possible to get independent confirmation of casualties because of the remoteness of the raid. The site was close to North Waziristan where the government in September signed a controversial peace deal with tribal elders to halt military operations.

Local militants in return promised to 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-Qaida and its supporters since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“Pakistani security forces began monitoring the activities of some local and foreign militants in Zamzola recently,” Sultan said. He provided no further details.

Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops deployed
Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war against international terrorism, 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 Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Afghanistan, and days after National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told a Senate committee that leaders of both al-Qaida 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 al-Qaida. Pakistan accepts that al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri might be hiding near the border but says it has no information on their whereabouts.

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