Militants capture Pakistani fort; 47 dead

WANA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan attacked and captured a paramilitary fort early on Wednesday and seven soldiers and 40 militants were killed, the military said.

The militants attacked the fort in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border at about midnight on Tuesday and fighting went on for at least two hours, said military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas.

“About 200 miscreants attacked from different directions,” Abbas said.

“They were able to breach one of the walls of the fort. In the process, there were about 40 militants dead and seven FC personnel were reported killed,” he said, referring to the Frontier Corps paramilitary force.

Fifteen soldiers escaped and 20 were missing, he said.

Security forces have been battling al Qaeda-linked militants in South Waziristan for several years.

The Sara Rogha area where the fort is located is a stronghold of al Qaeda-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, who the government said was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27.

Security forces retaliated with artillery but Abbas said the fort was still in the hands of the militants.

Separately, a bomb exploded as a military patrol was passing along a road in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province on Wednesday but there was no immediate word on casualties, police said.

Security forces have been trying to clear hundreds of militants from the Swat valley since November.

A wave of militant violence in recent months, including many suicide bomb attacks, has added to a sense of crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has been facing opposition to his rule.

Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad