Dozens die as militants attack 5 Pakistan posts

Image: U.S. troops return fire as smoke rises from Taliban position
Pfc. Wesley Benjamin, left, from Carbondale, Ill., and Spc. David Samerville from Yorkville, N.Y., return fire as smoke rises from Taliban positions.Rafiq Maqbool / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Some 150 militants attacked five security posts in Pakistan's tribal area near the Afghan border overnight, sparking a clash that killed 11 soldiers and 24 insurgents, officials said Friday.

The fighting in the Mohmand tribal area shows that insurgents in the region retain significant ability to coordinate and mount complex assaults, despite multiple military offensives against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Pakistan's northwest.

The top government official in Mohmand, Amjad Ali Khan, said 11 soldiers died in the fighting, while a dozen were wounded.

The troops called in helicopter gunships to help push back the militant fighters, said Maj. Fazl Ur Rehman, a spokesman for the Frontier Corps security force.

The militants used small and heavy weapons, officials told Reuters. The clashes lasted for several hours but ended by morning.

A group known as Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. TTP spokesman Sajjad Mohmand told NBC News by phone, "We have carried out the attack with 70 men after midnight, the clashes continued till 6 o'clock in morning. We have captured three posts and two soldiers, we killed 12 Pakistani soldiers, we have lost two men, one is injured."

Information from Pakistan's tribal regions is nearly impossible to verify independently because access is restricted and the conflict zones are dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Taliban Friday morning also attacked a base in Afghanistan, just across the border from Pakistan.

However, Master Sgt. Jason Haag, a spokesman for international forces body ISAF, said in an e-mail to msnbc.com that no coalition forces were hurt in the attack on Combat Outpost Badel.

"The outpost received small-arms fire from approximately three to five insurgents. Coalition forces returned fire with small arms and mortars and the fighting stopped after a brief engagement," he said.

Taliban weakened?
The Mohmand area in Pakistan has been a trouble spot for years and the focus of multiple army operations.

Its border location makes it a valuable transit point for insurgents seeking to travel to Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are fighting.

Pakistani troops have scored major gains against pro-Taliban militants in military offensives and operations since last year, but insurgents have proved resilient and continued attacks on security forces and civilians.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan since the army stormed a militant-run mosque in capital Islamabad in 2007.

The army says its offensives in the Swat valley, South Waziristan and other tribal regions have weakened the Taliban, although analysts question their effectiveness because militants tend to melt away during crackdowns and establish strongholds elsewhere.

Pakistani action against militants on the border is seen as crucial to efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are spearheading one of NATO's biggest offensives against the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan has often been criticized for not doing enough, however.

An intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan has brought more pressure on Pakistan to go after militants operating out of sanctuaries in remote enclaves on its side of the border.

Also Friday, a remote-controlled bomb rigged to a bike exploded on the outskirts of Quetta city in southwestern Pakistan, killing a police officer and wounding five more, police official Hamid Shakil said.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, where a long-running insurgent movement that wants greater autonomy for the region has at times targeted security officials.