MIRAMSHAH / ISLAMABAD, Sept 30: Six army soldiers and a major and a paramilitary Frontier Constabulary sepoy were killed on the second day of a military operation against militants in the North Waziristan Agency.

Besides, two civilians were killed during an exchange of fire between security forces and militants in the agency’s Mirali tehsil.

A military official in Peshawar declined to comment on the casualty report, but Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told BBC in an interview that 11 security forces personnel had been killed in two days of the operation, six on Thursday and five on Friday.

He said the army had suffered nine casualties, including the major, while the two other personnel killed belonged to the Frontier Constabulary.

He also said between 25 and 30 militants had been killed in two days of clashes.

Hundreds of army and paramilitary troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery cordoned off the Khat Kali area after night-long heavy gunbattle with the militants and resumed artillery fire on Friday evening, pounding hideouts of militants in the besieged locality.

Witnesses said that two air force jets and combat helicopters were also seen in action in the troubled area. A fleet of helicopters has already been moved to Miramshah.

Tension gripped the rugged region and markets in Miramshah and Mirali remained closed. There were reports of tribal volunteers trying to reach the area to support their holed-up comrades.

Meanwhile, authorities in Miramshah stepped up efforts to nab a Mirali cleric, Maulana Azizullah, who had issued a decree urging his followers to wage a jihad against security forces.

Official sources said that militants had attacked an army convoy on the Miramshah-Datakhel road near Alikhel on Thursday night, killing the major and wounding three soldiers. The military convoy was moving towards the embattled zone.

The deceased has been identified as Major Mohammad Khan of the Frontier Regiment. The body of the major and three wounded soldiers, Manzer Abbas, Abdul Ghafoor and Shafiqur Rehman, were taken to a military hospital in Bannu by a helicopter.

The sources said that despite heavy artillery shelling and firing from helicopter gunships, militants backed by tribal volunteers were offering stiff resistance.

The security forces were pounding militants’ targets with 130mm artillery from a military camp in Miramshah.

The political authorities have constituted a 30-member jirga to broker a ceasefire. MNA Maulvi Nek Zaman, former MNA Maulvi Din Dar and Maulvi Abdur Rehman are heading the committee.

Corps Commander Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, it may be mentioned, has publicly announced that MNA Nek Zaman was indirectly backing militants. The MNA has denied the allegation.

Officials said that members of the peace committee had met Political Agent Zaheerul Islam, but the meeting ended without any positive outcome.

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